Scottish prison smoking ban debate
Wednesday, November 28, 2018 at 9:09
Simon Clark

Smoking will be outlawed in all Scottish prisons from Friday.

The Scottish Sun asked me to contribute 300 words on the subject for today’s edition. It's not online but I wrote:

Five months ago Rory Stewart, the former prisons minister in England, tweeted: ‘Delighted to confirm that we have just achieved one hundred per cent smoke free prisons.’ “We were ahead of the Scots and we’ve done it,” he told a Commons committee.

Unaware, it seems, of a succession of reports linking the smoking ban with increasing violence and illegal drug use in prisons, Stewart’s jubilation seemed misplaced. Incidents of self-harm and assaults in prisons are a serious problem and the use of illicit drugs is rife, yet here was a minister celebrating the prohibition of a legal product.

According to the Scottish Prison Service the aim is to protect staff and inmates from exposure to second hand smoke. The potential harm has been exaggerated but allowing prisoners to light up outside, in an exercise yard or smoking area, doesn’t put anyone else’s health at risk. In contrast, banning smoking completely could inflame a tense or volatile environment.

Plans to give inmates vaping kits after prisons in Scotland go 'smoke free' are well-meaning but questionable. Vaping may satisfy some prisoners but for many e-cigarettes are still no substitute for tobacco. Why not offer e-cigarettes to those who want to quit, and allow them to vape in their cells, but permit designated smoking areas for those who don’t?

Another proposal is to give prisoners in Scottish jails jigsaws and colouring books to wean them off cigarettes. If the plan is to treat inmates like children, don't be surprised if they behave like children.

Smoking is one of the few pleasures many prisoners have. That's why tobacco is such an important currency in prison. No-one has the right to smoke in jail but banning smoking completely could have serious unintended consequences including increasing violence and illicit drug use. Is that a legacy the Scottish government is willing to risk?

My contribution was one half of a head-to-head debate with Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH (London), who has been billed as ‘ASH Scotland chief’.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Sheila Duffy, chief exec of ASH Scotland, sees that!

Anyway, Deborah has pooh-poohed the suggestion that banning smoking in prisons can fuel violence and the use of illegal drugs.

According to her, ‘After Scottish prisons go smoke-free, everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about.’

The tobacco control industry will deny there is a link between smoking bans and unrest or increasing use of drugs in prisons, but there have been enough reports - both formal and anecdotal - that suggest otherwise.

Here are a few:

Prison smoking ban 'fuelling HMP Leicester violence'
BBC News, May 31, 2018

Prisoners trashed jail in NINE HOUR riot after smoking ban was introduced
Daily Star, March 4, 2018

HMP Haverigg prison riot 'linked to smoking ban'
BBC News, February 27, 2018

Smoking ban and short staffing 'sparked prison riot'
BBC News, January 30, 2018

I could go on.

Meanwhile the Mirror also reported (January 27, 2018):

The smoking ban in prisons has made air quality WORSE, a report has revealed.

The findings heap embarrassment on prison chiefs, who have trumpeted the health benefits of outlawing cigs at all the jails in England and Wales.

So, no, I don’t think anyone should be complacent about the impact of the prison smoking ban – not even Deborah Arnott whose membership of the mysterious 'smoke free prisons project board' was discussed here exactly one year ago.

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

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