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Howard League blog · 3 May 2017

Smoking in prisons

More prisons are due to ban smoking over the summer. It is difficult to argue that anyone should continue smoking as we all know that it kills, and kills painfully and prematurely.

However, smoking tobacco is a highly addictive habit that is incredibly difficult to kick and people need a great deal of help to stop and stay stopped. It is desirable for prisoners and staff not to smoke and to remain non-smokers for the rest of their lives.

First, a personal confession. Like many teenagers of my generation I started smoking young and carried on the addiction for many years. It took me more than 10 years to stop completely and I admit it was hard to stop.

Prisons should be smoke-free. The challenge is how to achieve this and how to support prisoners

When prisons started to ban smoking there were dire predictions of disorder but it appears that the sky has not fallen in. I have visited smoke-free prisons and staff have not reported additional unrest – although this may be because prisons are in such a mess that it is difficult to tell what is the cause of the seething resentment that exhibits in drug-taking, random violence and self-injury.

I do think prisons should be smoke-free. The challenge is how to achieve this and how to support prisoners. Prisons are offering courses and medics can provide patches and other aides. But smokers need a variety of props to get through both the first few weeks and longer term.

The NHS advises a better diet, not drinking fizzy drinks, going for a walk and getting more outdoor exercise, and keeping busy. Unfortunately, none of these is feasible in prison.

The food is stodgy and I have never seen the prescribed five a day provided. Prisoners supplement their meagre diet with sweets and fizzy drinks as the only treat available in a bleak world. Obviously going for a walk is out of the question. Few prisoners get any outdoor exercise. Finally, prisons are inactivity, boredom and inertia writ large – nothing happens all day, every day.

Whilst in the care of the state, men, women and children should be encouraged and helped to lead healthy lives. This should include not smoking, but it must also include the means to achieve and sustain this, and that means decent food and exercise and the ability to lead a good and useful life.


  • Trevor Ellis says:

    I totally agree that ”prisons should be smoke -free” because we should not forget that smoking is dangerous and presents a serious threat to the health and lives of inmates.

  • Rachel Wilson says:

    Why does no-one promote the easy-read 200 page, large- font self-help book by Allen Carr (not the TV personality, before you ask); ‘The Easyway To STOP Smoking?’ Just smoke as you read until you’re finished, and then, Voila, as if by magic, you really are finished. It works! No withdrawal. No mental anguish. Could it be because instead of selling millions of cigarettes BIG Tobacco has discovered there is also as much profit prescribing the actual substance smokers are addicted to to make as much profit through patches and gums? A cure so good that wont be publicised due to the immense loss of revenue it creates, all at the expense of inmates’ physical and mental well-being and personal financial situations to name but a few…. It’s absolutely disgraceful how this book is not encouraged in society.

  • Peter Watson says:

    1.The percentage of people who smoke is far higher than in the population generally.This is also true of the remaining asylum institutional culture of the psychiatric system so this increase is also reflected in our mental health units,especially those in a secure environment.

    2.Staff are at risk of the harmful effects of passive smoking.

    The answer will remove the criminal market that all these institutions create and the associated harm that is associated with it,including the collection of drug debt via abuse.It is TO PRESCRIBE SAFE NHS VAPOURISERS AND NICOTINE VAPOUR FREE for the rest of their lives if needed.Self-disclosure.I gave up 15 years ago but rely on 2 mgs nicotine lozenges still,4mgs at a football match.

    I know a special guy who converted to vaping himself and now educates others in how to do it.

    The message should be-We Vape Our Drugs in the 21st Century-Smoking is so 20th Century.


    This would reduce a great deal the harm this dangerous drug brings.

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