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Jails Market E-Cigarettes to Detainees to Generate Revenue

by Mark Wilson

Prisons and jails across the country went tobacco-free years ago, to avoid second-hand smoke lawsuits and rising medical care costs. Now, impoverished jails are selling prisoners e- cigarettes, in hopes of profiting off their addiction.

“Hope I can make $45,000 a year and that profit will be turned in to help pay these guards for being understaffed, underpaid,” said Macon County, Tennessee Sheriff Mark Gammons. Another motive is to end jail tobacco smuggling, admits Gammons.

Electronic cigarettes, which eliminate second-hand smoke, range in price from $12 to $200 for the best e-cigarette on the market. “The soaring popularity of e cigarette has made the market much more competitive and all electronic cigarette brands are trying to make a mark in the market with best quality products,” according to This new and rapidly growing industry is expected to generate revenue topping $1 million by the end of 2013, estimates

On August 6, 2013, the Macon County Jail started selling detainees a $13.50 e-cigarette. Unlike many on the market, the jail version is not rechargeable, forcing prisoners to buy a new cigarette every 500 puffs or so.

“This way anybody that does smoke they have the freedom to buy this,” said Gammons. “It will allow them to have some form of cigarette while they are in jail.”

Macon County is not alone. Putnam County, Tennessee, some Kentucky jails and White County, Alabama have all started marketing e-cigarettes to detainees.

“Electronic cigarettes will eliminate the second hand smoke issue and allow inmates who smoke to have this option,” said White County Sheriff Doug Maier. Like Gammons, Maier claims that e-cigarette profits will offset jail operation costs.

Profiting off prisoner addictions undermines long term public health and safety, notes Prison Legal News Associate Editor Alex Friedmann.

“I think the fact remains prisoners with other addictions, such as alcohol addiction, the jail is not providing with beer and whiskey,” said Friedmann. “Prisoners with substance abuse addiction, such as Oxycodone, the jail is not providing them with that.”

It is still much too early to know the long term health risks of vapor cigarettes. “Much is unknown about the impact of e-cigarette use, including the harm to both the user and those exposed to the secondhand vapor,” noted the American Lung Association in Tennessee. Of course, profits always trump prisoner health risks.


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