Cigarette-deprived inmates turn down therapy

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 05:00 03/07/2012

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The  number of prisoners using nicotine replacement products has fallen by three-quarters, but some are turning down the therapy because they fear it will bring unwanted attention from other inmates.

Smoking was banned in New Zealand prisons a year ago and despite calls for riot squads to be at the ready, there have been no major incidents.

Corrections Department figures show that between November 2011 and May, 8038 new prisoners were questioned about their smoking habits. Of those, 2377 said they were non-smokers and 5661 said they were smokers – and of those, 4177 chose to have nicotine replacement therapy.

That number fell to 1082 in May.

Most prisoners are offered a reduced course of nicotine replacement for a three-month period, which includes patches and lozenges, but a small number of long-term smokers are receiving a longer course.

With 20,000 people being jailed every year, often on short sentences, many new prisoners were choosing not to take up the offer.

Corrections national health manager Bronwyn Donaldson said that was for a variety of reasons, including some prisoners finding products ineffective in the past and the unpleasantness of the lozenges.

However, some prisoners feared it would bring unwanted attention.

"There will be some people who worry about having it in the wings when other people don't," Ms Donaldson said.

In the past some inmates used standover tactics to take cigarettes from other prisoners.

There are also anecdotal reports of some prisoners abusing the products by smoking patches and applying more than one at a time.

That had resulted in a handful of inmates being required to hand in used patches before receiving a new one, Ms Donaldson said. Some prisoners had tried smoking patches, but could get a bigger "nicotine hit" by putting them on their arms.

"We've heard that this is happening out there and our expert said 'that's quite bizarre because that [smoking patches] wouldn't be an effective way of getting nicotine into your system'."

In May a team of Auckland University scientists reported that they had found the air quality in prisons had improved by more than 50 per cent since the smoking ban.

Ms Donaldson said asthma rates in prisons had improved and there was less need for visits from respiratory nurses for asthma attacks and bronchial infections, even in winter.

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Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said the smoking ban had improved safety in prisons because inmates no longer had access to lighters and matches. Fire-related incidents had fallen from 76 the year before the ban, to 21 after the ban.

- The Dominion Post

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