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Thursday, Jan 17, 2019
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Florida prisons ban smoking beginning Friday

TAMPA - Smoke 'em if you got 'em. State prisons have been weaning inmates off cigarettes, selling less and less 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 may order a nicotine patch for $34.99. 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." Plessinger said six months' warning was plenty of time to forewarn inmates. Banning smoking makes prisons healthier places for inmates and employees, prison officials said. It also saves taxpayers money – prisoners hospitalized for tobacco-related illnesses like cancer and emphysema cost Florida's taxpayers $8.7 million last year alone. Prisoners now may 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. Eliminating lighters also will make prisons safer and save taxpayers money, Plessinger said. It will reduce the risk of arson. And lighters can be used to melt plastic objects like toothbrushes into shanks, which cost taxpayers money if inmates are stabbed, Plessinger said. ** 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 like 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 serious contraband. He said some inmates stole cigarettes from jail staffers, and some staffers violated protocol by selling cigarettes to inmates. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton told The Tampa Tribune in March that prisons in her state didn't have large-scale riots when smoking was banned in 2005. But the prisons did get contraband, with pouches of tobacco selling for $50 to $200 and cans of tobacco selling for $200 to $500. 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. Prison employees will have designated smoking areas outside prison fences. Hillsborough County jail inmates already are banned from using tobacco products. In October 2009, that ban was extended at all detention department locations in Hillsborough, affecting detention staffers and the public. [email protected] (813) 259-7961
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