No evidence that prison smoking bans lead to riots? Bullshit!
Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 10:38
Simon Clark

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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