Two decades after a Florida legislator proposed it, the state finally is ready to outlaw smoking by prison inmates, reports the St. Petersburg Times. That prisoners are still casually lighting up in the rec yard, years after many other states stopped the practice, is testament to the legacy of tobacco industry influence in Tallahassee and the reluctance of a rigid prison bureaucracy to change with the times. Gov. Rick Scott’s new prison boss, Edwin Buss, arrived in Florida from Indiana a few weeks ago and was shocked to discover a smoky haze in prisons he visited.
His former state banned smoking in prison in 1995, and many other states followed. “We’re kind of going toward a smoke-free world,” Buss said. He plans to offer nicotine patches and smoking cessation classes to inmates to wean them off cigarettes and chewing tobacco by September, to make prisons cleaner and reduce health care costs. Officials estimate that about 60 percent of inmates are smokers and that many nonsmoking young inmates take up the habit, partly out of boredom. It has been illegal for inmates to smoke in their cells for a decade. Last year, inmates in Florida bought $19 million in tobacco products, and taxpayers paid $9 million in health care costs for inmates hospitalized with tobacco-related illnesses.