Smoke-free prisons a fresh approach for staff and prisoners

Monday 15 June, 2015

New laws requiring Victorian prisons to be completely smoke-free from July 1 will protect the health of staff and prisoners, in a move supported by Quit Victoria and the Australian Medical Association (Victoria).

Prisoners will no longer be able to purchase tobacco in Victoria's 14 prisons from this week, ahead of a total smoking ban on July 1.

Preparation for the smoking ban in Victorian prisons - including providing customised quitting support - has been underway for 18 months to allow staff and prisoners to make the transition.

Smoke-free prisons have been or are due to be introduced in most other Australian states, and are also the norm in New Zealand, Canada and parts of the USA. Victoria's youth justice facilities have been completely smoke-free since November 2013.

Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said second-hand smoke was a significant issue in prisons, making the complete smoking ban necessary to protect the health of all staff, prisoners and visitors.

"Prison staff and inmates deserve to be protected from the dangers of second-hand smoke at close quarters,'' Dr White said.

"Many prisoners want to quit but find it difficult in an environment where they are constantly exposed to cigarette smoke.

"Prisoners are far more likely to have serious health problems than the general population, and smoking only worsens these health inequities."

Currently around 85 per cent of Australian prisoners smoke, compared to about 13 per cent in the general community.1

In addition to the health benefits for prisoners, smoke-free prisons are likely to reduce the considerable cost to taxpayers of treating the long-term health effects of smoking.

AMA Victoria President Dr Tony Bartone said banning smoking in Victorian prisons was the right step for prisoners' health.

"The elevated smoking rate among prisoners reflects, to a large extent, the increased likelihood of inmates being from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Indigenous people, drug users and those with a mental illness are over-represented in the prison system. This ban will significantly improve the health of prisoners," Dr Bartone said.

Dr White said Quit Victoria had been working closely with Corrections Victoria to plan for the introduction of smoke-free prisons.

"Quitting can be difficult but experience from other countries and Australian states tells us that the best approach is to allow a substantial lead-in time so appropriate support can be provided to prisoners and staff," Dr White said.

In the lead-up to July 1, Quit Victoria has run four-week programs designed specifically for prisoners to help them quit, backed by access to nicotine replacement therapies and individual support through the Quitline.

Staff members have also received help to quit smoking, and information on how to support others who are in the process of quitting.

"As of July 1 there will be 5000 fewer smokers in Victoria - and that's just prisoners. Prison staff can take a lot of credit for their hard work in preparing for this change, and I particularly congratulate the many staff members who have taken the opportunity to quit themselves," Dr White said.

 

SMOKEFREE PRISONS IN AUSTRALIA


Victoria Yes, from July 1, 2015
NSW Yes, from August, 2015
ACT No
Queensland Yes, since May, 2014
SA Yes, to be phased in from March, 2016
NT Yes, since July, 2013
WA No
Tasmania Yes, since January, 2015

Contact

Kate Hagan, Quit Victoria Media Manager, 0438 058 406

Felicity Ryan, AMA Victoria Media Officer, 0437 450 506

For help to quit smoking, contact Quitline on 13 7848

__________________________

1 AIHW 2013. The health of Australia's prisoners 2012. Cat. no. PHE 170. Canberra: AIHW.

Updated: 15 Jun, 2015