Smoker aids stop jailhouse blues
The ban on smoking in prisons will not stop inmates from lighting up unless it is strictly enforced and they get help giving up, health researchers say.
All New Zealand prisons are now supposed to be smokefree, with tobacco and tobacco-related products classed from July 1 as prohibited products or contraband.
The ban has been placed on smoking in prisons for health reasons, but a team from Auckland University's Centre for Tobacco Control Research is warning that it may not result in as many health benefits as expected unless the ban is backed up by comprehensive cessation support programmes.
Writing in the latest edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal, the researchers said studies done in countries where total smoking bans in prisons have been imposed showed that did not necessarily stop inmates smoking.
"Overseas experience has shown that simply banning smoking will not necessarily result in prisoners giving up, nor will it result in the maintenance of abstinence by those who do stop smoking during incarceration," they warned.
At overseas correctional facilities where smoking had been banned, a black market in tobacco often developed.
As tobacco was a readily accessible legal product in public, it was easy to smuggle into prisons and often it was prison staff who brought it in.
Studies showed that even if inmates stopped smoking due to smoking bans, a vast majority relapsed when they were released back into the community.
In interviews of former smokers from a tobacco-free correctional facility, more than 97% relapsed within six months of being released.
"In order to reap maximum health gains from the total smoking ban in prison policy, comprehensive cessation support for all inmates needs to be provided to ensure that they quit during incarceration and stay quit upon release," the researchers said.
Here, the Corrections Department is offering prisoners nicotine patches and lozenges, but the researchers say that falls short of the recommended level of support needed to help smokers successfully quit.
They say the Corrections Department should review the level of support to better tailor it to the prisoners' needs.
The 2005 prison health survey found that three-quarters of prisoners in New Zealand smoked, which is three times higher than the general population.
- Sunday Star Times