Florida prisons end sales of tobacco products

State prisons have been weaning inmates off cigarettes in recent weeks, selling fewer and fewer smokes at their canteens. Now they’ve stopped selling inmates any tobacco. And as of Friday, cigarettes and lighters will be considered contraband.

In March, prisons gave inmates six months’ warning that smoking would be banned. Inmates can order a supply of nicotine patches for $34.99.

Prison cell

Prison cell

Florida prisons are monitoring the smoking situation to make sure inmates don’t get unruly.

“So far, things are operating as they always have,” said state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. “We have no indication that there’s going to be problems.”

Banning smoking makes prisons healthier places for inmates and employees, prison officials said. It also saves taxpayers money — prisoners hospitalized for tobacco-related illnesses such as cancer and emphysema cost Florida’s taxpayers $8.7 million last year.

Prisoners have been allowed to smoke in designated areas during recreation time. But as of Friday, prisoners caught smoking will face possible discipline, including visitation restrictions and loss of gain time.

Inmates spent $19 million last year on tobacco-related products. That money went to the canteen vendor, which pays the state 96 cents a day per inmate regardless of what is purchased in the canteen.

Florida earns tax money off inmate canteen purchases, Plessinger said. But she said other states that banned tobacco have not seen significant losses in tax money because inmates instead buy products such as candy.

Jeff Eiser, who ran the jail system in Cincinnati when smoking was banned there, has said inmates transitioned well to products such as candy and coffee. He also said banning cigarettes saved money cleaning everything from garments to sheets.

The only downside to the ban, Eiser said, was that cigarettes became valuable contraband. He said some inmates stole cigarettes from jail staffers, and some employees violated protocol by selling cigarettes to inmates.

Some states have dealt with angry prisoners once smoking bans went into effect.

When Georgia prisons implemented smoking bans in 1995, about 150 Lee Correctional Institution inmates protested by refusing to work, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Most went back to their assignments after their warden called in a riot squad.

Florida’s public buildings and offices have smoking bans, as do federal prisons and more than half of the country’s state prisons.

Hillsborough County jail inmates already are banned from using tobacco products.

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