Prisoners Likely To Resume Smoking Habits After Release But Intervention Can Prevent Relapse


In July 2013, Australia's Northern Territory pioneered the smoking ban in jails. In May 2014, Queensland adopted the same non-smoking campaign in their jails and in February 2015, Tasmania did the same. In July 2015, Victorian jails also banned smoking in the premises followed by New South Wales whose initiative kicked off in August 2015.

Implementing smoking bans in jails is never easy. A riot broke out at the Metropolitan Remand Centre (MRC) in Ravenhall, Victoria, a day before the smoking ban in Victorian jails took effect.

The state's entire prison population was locked down to avoid potential breakouts. The Ravenhall riot resulted in over $25 million worth of damages.

Professor Tony Butler is the head of Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society's Justice Health Research Program. Together with Dr. Lorraine Yap, the two experts analyzed studies conducted in U.S. jails with smoking bans. Their research led to the overview of how majority of ex-prisoners returned to smoking following their releases.

In one study, former prisoners returned to cigarettes three weeks after their release. Another study found approximately 63 percent of released prisoners return to cigarettes during their first day back as a free citizen. The same study found that 97 percent of the former prisoners resumed smoking six months after their release.

"These findings indicate that this population is in need of interventions both inside prison and after their release to reduce their high rate of tobacco smoking," wrote the study authors. The researchers indicated that an intervention is effective in lessening numbers of smoking relapse among ex-prisoners as per a U.S. study.

Prisoners who were used to smoking several packs a day were given a 12-week nicotine replacement therapy and a quit program when the smoking ban took hold of all Victorian jails. Quit Victoria director Dr. Sarah White explained that some people get stressed and even angry when trying to withdraw from nicotine. She advised prisoners to take advantage of the anger and stress management programs being offered in the correctional facilities.

Butler and Yap published their findings in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Photo: Valeria C. Preisler | Flickr 

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