Prisons prepare for July 1 smoking ban

Smokers sent to prison after the July smoking ban could be kept in their own wing to avoid trouble as they battle withdrawal symptoms.

A ban on smoking in prison will start on July 1.

An estimated 5600 New Zealand inmates smoke, which is about 67 per cent of the prison population.

Manawatu Prison residential manager Nigel Tristram, who has been running a smokefree unit for 38 prisoners since September, said: "When the ban on the whole place comes in, we will have a few problems, but not a lot. Guys that are very heavy smokers that come in off the street and are told, `You can't smoke any more' – a lot of those guys just won't manage that to start with and will get a bit upset.

"I think we will have to put all the guys that are smokers in one area and manage them that way. A [nicotine] patch takes a while to come into action."

He said mixing inmates giving up smoking with those who had just been jailed would be a problem.

"The new prisoners will smell of smoke. You would not want to house a new guy with someone who has just stopped. He will smell the smoke on them and it will make it harder for him to give up," he said.

Tristram established the smokefree unit by transferring smoking prisoners to other parts of the prison, although a few stayed in the unit and used nicotine patches to give up.

He took tobacco off the list of goods prisoners could buy, but it was reinstated when a prisoner complained to the inspector of prisons.

The inspector ruled that tobacco could not be removed from the list until the July ban began.

Corrections Department service development manager Rachel Leota said segregation was not essential.

"The department successfully manages large volumes of prisoners who are detoxing from substances including cigarettes, drugs and alcohol without segregation," she said. "Every new prisoner is assessed and offered support to assist them to adjust to prison without cigarettes.

"In addition, we widely announced the total smoking ban for prisoners last year. This gave us a year to prepare and ensure that everyone affected by the change coming into effect in July is well-informed.

"International experience suggests that smoking bans are more effective when the ban is preceded by a period of preparation."

Assistant general manager for prison services Brendan Anstiss said prisoners wanting to quit smoking were offered free support services and an eight-week course of nicotine patches.

"Prison nurses and health staff will be on hand to provide advice about quitting smoking to prisoners and prisoner self-help groups," he said.

The Press