Tobacco sales will be stopped in all prisons and rules changed to ban smoking entirely by the end of 2018, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) announced yesterday.
The decision is likely to prove very controversial among inmates, who are more likely than the general population to be smokers. Some are heavily reliant on cigarettes.
Prison reform groups expressed fears that a total ban was disproportionate, claiming that stopping inmates from smoking could cause violence and may lead to an illicit trade.
The SPS said it would be working with a wide range of other organisations to help as many prisoners as possible give up smoking before the ban is introduced.
Scotland banned smoking in all enclosed public places in 2006, but the policy did not include prisons, where it is currently permitted inside cells and in some outside spaces.
The SPS said existing measures – such as forcing prisoners to close their cell doors whenever they light a cigarette – had not proved to be effective enough in reducing second-hand smoke.
The prison service announced the clampdown as it published what it described as “the most comprehensive study in the world” of prison workers’ exposure to second-hand smoke.
The Tobacco in Prisons Study (TIPS) found that around two thirds of non-smoking prison staff are regularly exposed to smoke during their shifts.
A typical prison worker is exposed to levels of second-hand smoke broadly similar to those experienced by someone living with a smoker in Scotland, researchers said.
The study, led by the University of Glasgow with input from the University of Aberdeen, was published in the Annals of Work Exposure and Health journal.
Researchers were able to estimate the exposure of prison staff to second-hand smoke in all 15 prisons in Scotland by using air particle monitors and nicotine sensors.
“It is not acceptable that those in our care and those who work in our prisons should be exposed to second hand smoke,” said Colin McConnell, chief executive of the SPS. However, pro-smoking group Forest warned that banning smoking in jails “risks inflaming a tense and sometimes violent environment”.
“The risks of second-hand smoke have been greatly exaggerated,” said the group’s director Simon Clark. Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “A sensible and considered approach to smoking in prisons would leave prisoners with a choice - at least to smoke outside.
“If this is not part of the Scottish Government’s plans, there has to be proper support while people give up - not just smoking cessation aids, but increased vigilance for signs of distress that could easily turn into self harm or worse.”