Can You Smoke in Prison?

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There are 1.6 million people serving time in correctional facilities in the United States as of Dec. 2022. Around 50% to 80% of incarcerated people were smokers before serving time.

The sheer number of people dependent on tobacco spells a health crisis in the country’s prisons. Although many inmates are forced to stop tobacco use behind bars due to tobacco bans, 60% to 90% resume smoking within a month of release.

Is smoking banned in all prison facilities in the country? What is the main objective of the tobacco bans? What are the policies and reasoning behind the bans?

How does a ban affect people in prison, from inmates to prison officials? What is the ban’s impact on prisoners who are smokers? Are there programs in prison that will curb the smoking addiction of prisoners?

This article gives you insight into the policies surrounding smoking inside prisons, whether you can bring cigars or cigarettes to inmates, and if smoking, in general, is allowed.

Also, you’ll understand the stance of the U.S. criminal justice system towards cigars and cigarette use behind bars. Finally, you’ll get the reasons of the U.S. government for implementing the existing policies towards smoking in prison.

The cold prison bars, well-guarded walls, and fences are not barriers to sharing love and care with loved ones in prison. Even if your loved ones are imprisoned, you can still communicate with and support them during these trying times.

However, if your incarcerated loved one is a smoker, you should know the prison policies on smoking. In some prison compounds, you’re not allowed to bring cigars and cigarettes as gifts to inmates. Read on and learn about the issues that prompted the ban in the first place, including the time it took effect.

You can visit for information about the programs to help your loved one behind bars deal with different addictions, including smoking. has a database of more than 7,000 correctional facilities in the United States. This website can help you locate your loved one quickly through its organized database of immigrant detention facilities, local jails, federal and state prisons, and military prisons.

The Case for Smoking in Prison

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has removed all tobacco-related products in commissaries nationwide since 2014. The BOP has specifically cited the following reasons for banning the use of any tobacco product inside prison.

  • The dangers of secondhand smoke to inmates
  • The diseases linked to smoking and tobacco use
  • The actual mortality rate linked to smoking inside prisons

      These three main reasons and the scientific studies surrounding them comprise the case of BOP to ban smoking and the use of tobacco-related products, especially after it was mandated by law.

      The ban isn’t absolute, as people who use smoking as part of their religious activity can use tobacco products. However, the activity must be approved first by prison authorities.

      Smoking Officially Banned in Prisons

      In 2014, the BOP revised and adopted the proposed tobacco ban of 2006, effectively banning tobacco in America’s prisons. The ban takes effect in all states and has caused positive and negative results.

      However, there have been updates on the status of prisons and their continued policies regarding smoking bans.

      The following is a 2021 list of smoke- and tobacco-free correctional facilities in the United States, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation report.

      These prisons implemented a ban on smoking. They’re 100% smokefree and tobacco-free indoors and outdoors:

      Tobacco use for tribal rituals or religious ceremonies is allowed in the following states:

      • Kansas
      • Michigan
      • Nevada
      • North Carolina
      • South Dakota

      The following are correctional facilities that are 100% smoke-free and tobacco-free but only indoors:

      The following are prison facilities that are 100% tobacco-free indoors:

      As you can notice, some states have allowed tobacco use for tribal ceremonies. This particular provision is to respect the traditions of the native inhabitants of the United States.

      The tribal communities have cultures linked to tobacco use and have become part of the tradition. In 1978, the U.S. federal law AIRFA (American Indian Religious Freedom Act) was passed to protect these cultures.

      The AIRFA protects religious rights and cultural practices, preserving traditions and warding off interference from government agencies.

      What’s the Issue?

      The main issue of advocates for banning tobacco in prison is the growing number of deaths directly linked to smoking. The most common cause of death related to smoking in prison is lung cancer, cerebrovascular diseases, ischemic heart disease, and chronic airway obstruction.

      Among the prison population, 50% to 83% are smokers. This percentage is much higher than the population outside prison. For ex-offenders, smoking is a significant contributor to mortality.

      To curb this growing statistic, the BOP has adopted a smoking ban proposal drafted in 2006, and the results were promising.

      Prisons that implemented the bans saw a reduction in smoking-related deaths by almost 10%. Prison death rates due to lung cancer went down in prisons where the smoking bans took effect for more than nine years.

      Then, in 2014, the proposal was picked up and revised to make it viable for implementation. After the final revisions were made, it got approved.

      Statistical observations show that after the ban, there was a sharp reduction in the mortality rate from smoking-related diseases compared to the rates before the ban. The numbers state the facts, and prisons are slowly becoming healthier each year that smoking in prison is banned.

      What’s New?

      After implementing the smoking ban in prisons, cancer and other respiratory diseases dropped in numbers. The comprehensive restrictions and the more extended implementation of tobacco restrictions resulted in a substantial reduction in prison mortality rates.

      However, there is a potential danger of relapse once inmates are released. This problem should be addressed not only in prison facilities but also in other areas of society.

      Implementation of smoke-free policies in indoor locations and designated smoking areas can help create an environment for people coming out of prison to adapt to. Furthermore, a program should help inmates who have gone through smoking abstinence not relapse once freed.

      Why Is This Important?

      The health concerns around smoking have always been an issue, especially after discovering its detrimental effects on the body. Over eight million people die yearly from smoking, which is staggering.

      Incarcerated people, despite their confinement, have a disadvantage. Evidence shows that individuals in prison tend to die from smoking-related diseases more than other demographic groups.

      One factor contributing to this concern is secondhand smoke, which threatens even nonsmokers exposed to toxic fumes while serving time in federal or state prisons.

      Aside from the threat to inmates, even correctional officers can develop diseases due to the poor air quality inside prisons where smoking is not banned.

      However, the threat of disease can gradually lessen because of the growing interventions against tobacco use, like prison smoking bans and the new smoking policies set in place by the BOP.

      What’s Next?

      Some correctional facilities are slowly changing their smoke-free prison status to allow smoking again.

      For example, the Department of Corrections in states like Mississippi has adopted designated areas for smoking. In contrast, Pennsylvania prisons have started adopting smoking cessation programs to help smokers stop their tobacco addiction.

      The reason for this sudden backtrack by these facilities is more of a safety concern than a health issue. One of the problems that crept up after a blanket smoking ban was set in place was the proliferation of black market distribution of contraband in prison.

      In Mississippi, there are reports of the prevalence of prison gangs and their control over a “black market” of supplies like packs of cigarettes. The price for items like cigarettes suddenly increased due to the impending return to allowing smoking in Mississippi prisons.

      The Pennsylvania DOC has implemented smoking cessation programs that use tobacco alternatives like tobacco-free e-cigarettes, nicotine patches, and nicotine replacement therapy for prisoners. Also, inmates can use e-cigarettes in designated areas inside the facility.

      When Did They Ban Smoking in Prison?

      A total smoking ban in prison took effect in 2014 to help alleviate the growing number of tobacco-related diseases and deaths inside the country’s correctional facilities.

      The ban was put forward to curb fatal increases in diseases like cancer and heart diseases linked to smoking. Health care is one of the crucial parts of rehabilitation to promote healthy living.

      Why Is Smoking Banned in Prisons?

      The U.S. criminal justice system has good reason to promote the banning of smoking in prisons. According to statistics, at least 16 million Americans are living with smoking-related diseases.

      The detrimental effects of smoking on the body have now become part of medical knowledge. Smoking leads to several diseases and disabilities that affect every body organ.

      Smoking is known to cause cancer, heart, lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even diabetes. Aside from this, smoking can increase the risk of certain diseases like tuberculosis and eye diseases and lower the body’s immune system.

      One factor that makes prisons a horrible place to be in, especially if smoking is not banned, is secondhand smoke.

      Secondhand smoke causes approximately 41,000 deaths of nonsmoking adults each year. Even nonsmoking inmates can get the same diseases that chronic smokers get.

      Do Prisons Allow Vaping?

      Vaping devices allow people to inhale an aerosol containing chemicals like nicotine. However, there are cases where other chemicals or flavorings are added without nicotine. These devices are battery-operated and resemble a cigarette, cigars, or pipes, which somewhat appeals to people wanting to rid themselves of smoking addiction.

      Linked with vaping devices and e-cigarettes are programs that focus on helping inmates manage their smoking habits. Smoking cessation programs are among the leading programs to help inmates end their unhealthy smoking habits.

      These programs provide the prison population with a pathway to recovery from smoking addiction. This program generally lasts six weeks, depending on the prison facility providing the treatment. Inmates get access to nicotine patches to help reduce smoking cravings gradually.

      However, studies show that smoking cessation programs alone may not be enough to halt smoking addiction completely. Part of public health service is to provide follow-up care to inmates who’ve undergone smoking abstinence even after their release.

      Some Prisons Took Pre-orders for Cigarettes in Preparation for the Lift of the Smoking Ban

      On February 1, 2021, states like Mississippi allowed smoking in their facilities. As news of lifting the smoking ban circulated in that facility, inmates pre-ordered cigarettes in preparation for the lifting of the ban.

      The ban became one of the factors that made the prison black market thrive. Also, prison guards’ smuggling cases came to light, revealing the underground transactions inside these correctional facilities.

      How Do They Light Cigarettes in Prison?

      Prisons don’t sell lighters to incarcerated inmates. However, there are prisons where lighters are mounted on the walls, and inmates who want to smoke can just walk up to these devices and have their cigars or cigarettes lit. There are cases where inmates make do-it-yourself lighters made from foil and batteries.


      1. Countries with the largest number of prisoners as of December 2022
      2. Up Close With Tobacco and American Indians
      3. Smoking & Tobacco Use: Health Effects
      4. Vaping Devices (Electronic Cigarettes) DrugFacts  

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