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OR DOC To Ban Smoking

The Oregon DOC has announced plans to ban smoking in all its facilities by October 1, 1995. The ban will be implemented in a four phase plan which gradually limits, then eliminates, the areas in which prisoners may smoke. The DOC will offer smokers educational material and classes on how to quit smoking before then. A Kansas reader has reported that the DOC in that state has also announced plans to ban smoking.

Both of the readers who submitted the above information have indicated they will be undertaking litigation against the smoking ban. There are several published cases where prisoners have challenged bans on smoking, all have lost as the courts hold that prisoners have no constitutional right to smoke. Whether or not state courts might hold differently is a possibility but a slim one.

In the September, 1993, issue of PLN we reported the Supreme Court ruling in Helling v. McKinney which held that prison officials were liable for exposing non smoking prisoners to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS). At that time we predicted that it was only a matter of time before all or most prisons across the country went non-smoking. While it is possible to have non-smoking units, prisoncrats as a general rule dislike any inconvenience or having to follow any laws such as segregating smokers from non-smokers. These are the driving factors in the prison smoking bans, not concern for prisoners long term health, the additional health care costs imposed by allowing prisoners to smoke or the risk of exposing non-smoking prisoners to known carcinogens.

In the July, 1992, issue of PLN we reported the fact that the Vermont DOC had rescinded its ban on smoking. That ban lasted six months and was ended after prison officials realized hey could not control the flow of contraband cigarettes into prison (mainly by staff) which led to a massive black market of $5 cigarettes. The Texas DOC banned smoking March 1, 1995. We'll see how long the bans last.

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