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« Control freaks | Main | Should our beaches be smokefree (sic)? »

No evidence that prison smoking bans lead to riots? Bullshit!

Last week it was reported that:

The Ministry of Justice is drawing up plans for a smoking ban in several jails amid fears that legal actions forcing all to go smoke-free simultaneously would trigger unrest at a time when tensions in the prison estate are high.

See Jail unrest feared over smoking ban plans (Observer).

Today the same paper has this little gem:

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of charity Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no evidence to support claims that depriving prisoners of tobacco could lead to riots.

“Prisons all around the world have gone smoke-free with few problems and, in the UK, all high-security psychiatric facilities have already gone smoke-free, as have prisons in the Isle of Man and Guernsey, without any trouble,” she said.

It's hard not to laugh because four weeks ago it was reported that:

Police armed with tear gas and water cannons were on Tuesday evening still attempting to contain a riot that broke out at a maximum security prison in Victoria earlier in the day, after prisoners became angered by the introduction of a smoking ban.

See Prisoners riot at Melbourne's Ravenhall remand centre over smoking ban (Guardian) and Smoking ban under spotlight after Melbourne prison riot (BBC News).

Meanwhile, according to today's Observer:

Internal reports commissioned by the Ministry of Justice suggest that it has been aware of evidence of prison staff being at risk of exposure to unacceptably high levels of secondhand smoke for eight years.

Three analyses, all marked “confidential” and written between 2007 and 2008, are likely to put further pressure on the government to introduce a ban on smoking in jails, despite claims that it will lead to unrest: four out of five inmates smoke.

See Whitehall ‘knew about health risks’ to prison warders as anti-smokers push for total ban (Observer)

The paper adds:

The reports found that secondhand smoke levels exceeded the US classification for “unhealthy” for short periods of time. At one prison, levels were similar to those experienced by bar staff before the smoking ban. The MoJ is understood to have rejected the findings.

Note the qualification "for short periods of time".

The evidence on environmental tobacco smoke suggests you would have to be exposed to it day after day, year after year (15 years or more) for it to have any significant impact, and even then the jury is out. Most studies found the effect was either very small or statistically insignificant.

Granted, serious asthmatics should avoid smoky environments but the suggestion ETS is a serious health hazard has never been proved.

Which brings me to my final point. If there was evidence smoking in prisons is a genuine risk to the health of prisoners or staff does anyone really believe the government would have covered it up and done nothing about it?

This of course raises questions about smoking in pubs and bars as well but I'll leave that for another day. Suffice to say I still don't believe here is evidence that justifies – on health or any other grounds – the current legislation.

Personally I don't consider smoking in prison to be a human right but nor is it a breach of human rights to be exposed to someone else's tobacco smoke in prison or anywhere else.

As for Deborah Arnott, I've only one thing to say to her brazen claim that there's no evidence a ban on smoking in prisons could lead to riots:


PS. For a more authoritative insight into smoking in prisons see this article in the Independent by former inmate Charlie Gilmour – A smoking ban in prisons won't really help cons - but it could destroy their economy.

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Reader Comments (10)

“Granted, serious asthmatics should avoid smoky environments.”

You may find that that’s an overgeneralization. There are asthmatics who smoke. And I suggest that there is now a group of asthmatics that have bought into the antismoking hysteria that now have anxiety reactions to tobacco smoke (i.e., psychogenic) which may or may not trigger an asthmatics attack. It’s not the smoke producing the attack but irrational beliefs/fear about smoke. Some just want attention. I have asthma and I demand that you don’t smoke around me [for no good reason].

Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 13:48 | Unregistered CommenterHoly Smoke

What goes around, comes around, eh?

Unless prison officers are a different species from bar workers then if the latter's health needed protection then so does the former's. To deny that prison officers need protection is to eradicate the grounds for the comprehensive ban. What is there left to do but deny that a prison ban would result in riots. Wonder which the officers would prefer: death by SHS or assault by a prisoner?

BTW I refuse to refer to the smoking ban as the "indoor smoking ban" which implies tacit acceptance of the legitimacy of potential outdoor bans.

Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 15:47 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

Dear Mr Clark

I assume Miss Arnott's ignorance of events in Australia will bring about her resignation, or absent that, her dismissal.

Her argument that various institutions in the UK have proscribed smoking " ...without any trouble,” discounts the stress suffered by the inmates to zero.

Perhaps, like Winston Smith, these broken smokers will come to truly love Big Sister.


Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 15:54 | Unregistered CommenterDP


She wrote an entire article in New Scientist.

I don’t predict a riot: jail smoking ban need not spell unrest
23 July 2015

by Deborah Arnott

It begins -

"A letter from a non-smoking prisoner with lung cancer, distraught because he was forced to share his cell with smokers, convinced me that smoking in prisons is an issue of human rights. If anything, more so than in public places such as pubs and bars because prisoners have no choice about whether to be there or not."

From your article -

"However, two legal cases brought by prisoners have brought the matter to a head. In March, a high court case confirmed that prisons were not above the law when it came to restrictions on smoking and that prison staff, including the governor, were open to prosecution if they failed to enforce restrictions."

One of which I assume is this -

Prisoner wins landmark ruling to ban smoking in jail
5 Mar 2015

“Paul Black, who is held at HMP Wymott in Lancashire, says he suffers from a range of health problems made worse by second-hand smoke”

“The judge rejected Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s argument that the 2006 Health Act, which makes smoking a criminal offence in enclosed public places and workplaces, does not “bind the Crown” and does not apply in state prisons.

Mr Justice Singh, sitting in London, declared: “In my judgment it is clear from the terms of the 2006 Act…that the intention of Parliament was indeed that it should apply to all public places and workplaces which fell within its scope, including those for which the Crown is responsible.”
http: //

Further detail from the Lancashire Telegraph

Repeat Blackburn sex offender wins landmark ruling to ban smoking in jail
6 March 2015

“In 2007, Black, then 48 and of Preston New Road, was given an indeterminate sentence after carrying out a sex act on a train from York to Burnley.
He also has several previous convictions for violent and sexual assault, including the rape of a 14-year-old girl from Blackburn, and the rape of an 18-year-old girl in Rossendale.

Black was ordered to serve at least 192 days before being considered for parole, a sentence described as ‘ridiculous and disgusting’ by his victim, who said he would re-offend if he was released.

However, he cannot be released on licence from HMP Wymott until the Parole Board decides he is no longer a danger to the public.”

“Although Black did not win a ruling prisoners were specifically entitled to access the NHS anti-smoking hotline, the judge said the justice secretary should reconsider the issue in light of the ruling.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 19:11 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

The Isle of Man prison is a considerably nastier place since introducing a smoking ban ahead of the UK.

Before the ban, it was a state of the art new prison, with low category prisoners who gave little trouble. Since the ban, morale amongst prisoners has nose-dived, as there is little other respite from the boredom of incarceration due to the low government prioritisation of education or re-training facilities once the new jail had been built and opened, at considerable expense.

Smuggling of tobacco, class A drugs and legal highs is becoming common, as is the 'alternative production' of cigarettes from any available material (tea-bags, plant leaves from the prison garden...etc.). Violence is being seen in a place where, before the ban, it was almost non-existent and the majority of the prisoners are now on heavy medication.

All of this was predicted before a ban introduced more on the whim of senior staff who morally disapprove of smoking than any serious health concern. Given that it is a state of the art, well ventilated place, less than a decade old, any genuine health argument for prohibition would have been dismissed after the most basic test on air quality.

Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 19:15 | Unregistered CommenterManx Gent

If Deborah Arnott thinks banning smoking in prisons is such a wonderful idea, then surely she should go on a speaking tour around the country's prisons and make the case for the benefits directly to the prisoners herself.

I bet you she doesn't walk out of the first prison in one piece.

Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 20:27 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Let's face it. If Deborah Arnott wants this, then she'll get it. Common sense has gone totally out of the window with all political parties in relation to smoking.

Monday, July 27, 2015 at 0:40 | Unregistered CommenterHelen D

What about the hotel chamber maids and domestic cleaners?

Monday, July 27, 2015 at 13:46 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

From Tasmania there are reports of inmates going to extreme lengths to continue smoking despite a smoking ban. An article at the ABC News, "Risdon Prison inmates getting around smoking ban, documents reveal" states that "Inmates at Tasmania's Risdon Prison are trafficking tobacco products in and effort to get around a ban." Of course a robust black market has emerged and contraband cigarettes continue to be smuggled into the prison.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 20:51 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

I know that prisons were (quite rightly, in my opinion) exempt as temporary "homes" and thus not subject to the Health Act, but if they are now going to regard them primarily as "workplaces" in view of warders who work there, and rule accordingly, why aren't they applying the same rules as other workplaces, i.e. banning smoking inside, but allowing it outside in exercise yards and gardens etc? Surely that would avoid the risk of any possible problems and would still provide non-smoking warders (and prisoners) with the same “smoke free” air as in other workplaces? Have they given any decent reason why this can’t be implemented?

It smacks more than a bit of gratuitious bullying “just because we can” – a bit like the ban in psychiatric hospitals. But I'm surprised that I haven't seen anyone (to my knowledge) suggesting it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 2:38 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

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