Florida’s Prison Inmates Can No Longer Light Up After September 30May 12th, 2011 | By Lynette | Category: Community News
By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
A countdown clock on the Florida Department of Corrections’ internal website ticks off the number of days until the smoking ban for inmates in Florida prisons takes effect Sept. 30. As of Wednesday, May 11, inmates have 141 days left before they must surrender their smokes.
Edwin Buss, Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, announced the ban March 14, a month after being appointed to the position by Governor Rick Scott on Valentine’s Day. Buss, who formerly headed Indiana’s prison system, where smoking has been banned since 1995 (Texas was the first state to institute a prison smoking ban in 1994), was reportedly surprised to find that Florida still permitted inmates to puff away in prisons yards (smoking in the cells has been illegal for at least a decade).
At least half of the states already ban smoking in their prison systems, and Georgia will join the lineup with a ban going into effect Dec. 1. The idea of a smoking ban for Florida’s state prisons has been kicked around in Tallahassee at least since 1992; former Florida legislator R.Z. Safley proposed the idea, but it never caught on mainly due to heavy opposition from the tobacco lobby.
Among the reasons Buss cited for the ban were cleaner surroundings free of tobacco pollution and a safer prison system as well. Once cigarettes are gone, prisoners will no longer be permitted to have cigarette lighters, either.
But the primary reason, Buss emphasized, is the reduction in health care costs; last year, Florida inmates cost taxpayers several million in hospital care for tobacco-related illnesses such as COPD, heart diseases, lung cancers and other respiratory/heart problems. The ban will also benefit non-smoking inmates who will no longer be exposed to second-hand smoke.
Doug Freer, Tobacco Prevention Specialist with the Madison County Health Department, says that a lot of times people just don’t comprehend the danger of second-hand smoke, or how many illnesses, especially heart attacks, have been linked to it. In a confined area like a prison, even an outdoor prison yard, there isn’t much room to get away from it, especially if a majority of the prisoners are smokers.
In the meantime, nicotine-addicted inmates and those coming into the system with a cigarette habit, will have a little over four months to prepare. The Department of Corrections will provide help for quitting to any inmates who request it; in fact, Freer added, inmates at the Madison Correctional Institution are already in a program weaning them down on the number of cigarettes they’re allowed to have per day. However, officials at MCI said they could not comment locally on the matter.
“We’ve been offering smoking cessation help to prisoners for years,” said Freer, “But until Governor Scott’s ban, there was very little interest in it.”
Freer also added that there is still free help available to members of the community who would like to quit the tobacco habit. Call the Quitline at 1-877-U-CAN-NOW (1-877-822-6669) or contact Preston Mathews at 850-728-5479, to inquire about free smoking cessation classes.