Minister confirms prison smoking ban

03:40, Jul 02 2010

Prisoners will be forced to go cold-turkey on 1 July next year after a government decree to ban smoking.

Corrections minister Judith Collins announced the measure today saying it was out of concern for the health and safety of prison staff. There was also concern about potential legal action from prison staff or non-smoking prisoners over exposure to second-hand smoke if no action was taken.

Corrections head Barry Matthews said prisoners also used lighters and matches to damage property, such as throwing burning balls of toilet paper at guards and setting fires in their cells.

He said he had considered the option of allowing it in designated outside areas only but that would have been problematic for staff having to shepherd prisoners outside for cigarette breaks and provide lighters.

Neither Ms Collins nor Mr Matthews were smokers and conceded they did not know how difficult it was to quit.

However, Ms Collins said the health of staff was their priority. Such bans were already used in Canada and in some Australian states.

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''Prisoners with alcohol and drug addictions have to deal with it. We don't offer alcohol to prisoners with alcohol addictions or P to prisoners with methamphetamine addictions. This is a prison, it's not a home.''

Mr Matthews said Corrections had not consulted prison staff unions such as the Corrections Association over the measure. About 5700 prisoners currently smoke -  two thirds of the prison population. They are able to smoke in their cells as well as designated outside areas.

While prison staff will still be able to smoke outside, prisoners will be completely forbidden from smoking and having lighters and matches. They will instead be offered tax-payer funded help to quit smoking. Currently prisoners can get an eight week course of nicotine patches through the Ministry of Health Quitline programme and Ms Collins said that would continue.

No law change was needed to introduce the measure.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health is considering a ban on duty free tobacco.

Health Minister Tony Ryall had asked his ministry to see if there was any scope for New Zealand impose a ban, the ministry's national director of tobacco control and chief advisor public health Ashley Bloomfield told One News.

The anti-smoking lobby group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said the blackmarket was fuelled by tobacco brought in by international travellers.

The maximum travellers are allowed to bring into the country is a 10-packet carton of cigarettes but tour leaders can get every traveller in their party to buy a carton, which are then sold on the black market, said Ben Youdan, director of ASH.

Seven years ago New Zealand signed a World Health Organisation treaty agreeing to raise tobacco prices, ban smoking in indoor public places, put health warnings on packets and prohibit or restrict duty free tobacco products.

However, New Zealand has also signed Customs conventions requiring us to allow tax-free tobacco in and Prime Minister John Key questioned why New Zealand would ban duty free tobacco if airlines were to continue to sell cigarettes on board.

- with NZPA

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