Second smokefree unit for prisoners

Voluntary smokefree units at Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) and nicotine replacements are helping prisoners break the habit before a smokefree ban is introduced later this year.

Prisoners will not be able to buy cigarettes or any other tobacco-related products, including lighters and matches, from July 1.

A second smokefree unit was opened at OCF at the weekend - the first was opened in January. Together, they house about 80 prisoners in a smokefree environment, Prison Services acting general manager Dr Brendan Anstiss said.

"No tobacco or tobacco-related products are permitted in the smokefree units."

Other prisons with smokefree units include Manawatu Prison, Rimutaka Prison, Invercargill Prison and Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility, with many others set to introduce them over the next two months.

Prisoners in the unit are either non-smokers, ex-smokers or those wishing to give up the habit. Corrections was working closely with Ministry of Health officials and the Quit Group, ensuring a range of smoking-cessation support was being offered, including nicotine patches and lozenges, he said.

"Currently, around 25% of prisoners at OCF are undertaking nicotine replacement therapy."

In the lead-up to July 1, prison libraries had been stocked with copies of Allen Carr's book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, with additional resources such as posters, pamphlets and fact sheets also distributed.

"The Quit Group have trained more than 70 prison staff as `Workplace Champions' and they are on hand to answer any staff and prisoner questions about giving up smoking.

"Prison nurses and health staff are also on hand to provide advice about quitting smoking to prisoners and prisoner self-help groups. This includes talks by health staff to prisoner groups."

OCF custodial systems manager Colin Ropiha said prisoners in the smokefree units have been supportive of one another.

"The prisoners are more relaxed, and staff are enjoying working in a smokefree environment."

Manawatu Prison became the first prison to introduce a voluntary smokefree unit in October last year, and the unit has been full ever since. Corrections Minister Judith Collins told Parliament last month the level of second-hand smoke and toxins is up to 12 times higher in prisons than in the homes of smokers.

"In the past, prisoners have used lighters to melt items such as toothbrushes, to make dangerous weapons. Prisoners also roll up balls of toilet paper, light them, and throw them at staff.

"Banning smoking will reduce all of these risks and improve the health and safety of our hard-working and excellent Corrections staff."

 The habit 

• Before the smoking ban was announced last June, an estimated 67% (about 5600) prisoners smoked.

• Prisoners will not be able to buy cigarettes or any other tobacco-related products from July 1.

• Prisoners asked when they arrive if they smoke and if they would like free support to quit smoking.

• Offered eight-week course of nicotine replacement patches funded by the Ministry of Health.

• Staff also offered free nicotine replacement therapy patches and lozenges, as well as regular clinics for those interested in quitting.

• As well as improving health and safety of prisoners and staff, the ban will also reduce the staff safety risks associated with prisoners misusing lighters and matches.

- Department of Corrections


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