PRISONERS who are forced to quit behind bars could become evangelists for non-smoking when they are released and return home, Scotland’s prisons chief has claimed. Colin McConnell, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said the knock on-effects of a ban could be a huge boost to smoking cessation efforts in the community: “People who end up in prison are already considered a hard to reach group by the NHS and more than 50 per cent of prisoners come from our most deprived communities. There could be a ripple effect if they go out after their sentence and influence friends or family to quit too,” he said. “the potential benefit for them and their communities if we can achieve this is almost incalculable.”

The comments came as the SPS announced plans for a total ban on smoking anywhere in Scotland’s 15 jails from November next year, after publication of world-leading research on the effects of the habit in prisons.

With around 72 per cent of prisoners smoking, staff and non-smoking prisoners can be exposed to levels of second hand smoke as high as those experienced by staff in busy bars, prior to Scotland’s smoking ban, researchers found.

Loading article content

While the level of smoking-related pollution varied from prison to prison and during the course of a day, The Tobacco in Prisons Study (TIPS) found that the worst affected areas were cells and recreation spaces. The TIPS team, comprising academics from the Universities of Glasgow, Stirling and Aberdeen and researchers from the NHS, measured levels of second hand smoke in the atmosphere using monitors and nicotine levels in the saliva of non-smoking staff.

As a result of the findings, Mr McConnell said, it was no longer possible for the SPS to stick with its target of eliminating smoking in jails by 2021. “We have taken a number of actions to reduce the risk associated with second hand smoke for staff and and for those sent to prison who spend many months and even years in that environment,” he said. “What this research tells us is that is not enough. There is no safe level of second hand smoke a in the custodial space. We simply can’t wait that long to take action.”

Instead, prisoners will be asked immediately to smoke only in their cells, with the doors closed, until smoking is banned completely from November 2018, Mr McConnell said. The SPS cannot enforce either measure without a law change as prisons were exempt from smoking ban when it was introduced in 2006.

Very few jurisdictions have banned smoking completely in prisons, although New Zealand did in 2011 and smoking has been banned in all four prisons in Wales since early last year. The ban will be supported by smoking cessation programmes and other help such as nicotine patches for prisoners.

Kate Hunt, of the university of Glasgow’s social and public health sciences unit said prison officers might say they didn’t need a monitor to know they were being exposed to second hand smoke. But proof of the impact now of smoking and als the views of prisoners and staff, will enable further research on the effect of the ban.

Mr McConnell said the 15 months delay before a full ban would enable the necessary legislation to be enacted, and resources to be put in place. “We want to do this as quickly but as safely and respectfully as possible,” he said.

Mr McConnell said efforts would be made to help those who struggle with the policy and he while a decision is yet to be taken, he hopes to see prisoners given the option of using so-called e-cigarettes.

The Scottish Government has backed the SPS proposal, believing it will contribute to its ambition of creating a “tobacco-free generation” by 2034.

However smokers’ rights group Forest said smoking in cells posed no significant risk to staff, and could make prisons less safe; “[This] risks inflaming a tense and sometimes violent environment, a spokesman said. “Tobacco is an important currency in prison. The removal of one of the few privileges inmates are allowed could also fuel the use of illicit substances.”