Inmates, guards stop smoking together
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Want to quit smoking, but just can't find the willpower?
Get yourself thrown in jail in Arkansas.
Starting Monday, smoking -- and the use of all tobacco products -- became prohibited inside the fences of Arkansas prisons.
The ban applies to the department's 12,000 inmates and its 3,000 staff.
"It's cold turkey, but it's not sudden cold turkey," said Correction Department spokesman Dina Tyler. "They've known about it for more than a year, so it will be a surprise to no one."
No one in the state prisons is allowed to dip snuff, or chew or smoke tobacco. The ban extends outside the prison walls to work crews in prison farm fields and the employees who guard them.
The ban is part of a growing national trend against tobacco inside prisons, as evidence builds about the health hazards from secondhand smoke. Banning the use of tobacco protects nonsmokers who can't avoid it.
The ban also stems from the rising costs of medical care prisons must provide inmates, costs that are expected to escalate as the prison population ages. Arkansas prisons have long restricted smoking to certain areas, banning it in places such as mess halls, libraries and other areas.
Similar bans already are in effect in Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Texas and Vermont.
Arkansas Correction Department director Larry Norris, a reformed three-pack-a-day smoker, gave everyone a lot of warning.
"He understands. I think his empathy had a lot to do with this long notice we've had," Tyler said. "Texas gave just a few days' notice. We've had more than a year."
The prison commissary stopped selling tobacco Dec. 1. Inmates who smoke -- the department doesn't have a firm figure on how many do -- each spent about $10 a month on cigarettes and other tobacco products.
"We'll probably make that (lost revenue) up with increased candy and gum sales," Tyler said.
The prison administration also offered classes and counseling to help inmates kick the habit before the ban took effect, but only 75 inmates and fewer than 50 staff members took advantage of the stop-smoking clinics.
No nicotine replacement patches, pills or gum will be provided to help inmates kick their habits, although the stop-smoking aids will be provided to certain mentally ill inmates.