May 7, 2008 / 1:13 AM / 10 years ago

Canada banning all smoking in federal prisons

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada has banned all smoking in federal prisons because a partial ban was largely ignored, the government said on Tuesday.

<p>People smoke on the pavement outside of their office in Nice, southeast France, January 30, 2007. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>

As a result of the ban, which took effect in all maximum-security prisons on Monday, inmates will be barred from smoking anywhere inside or outside prison property, including private visiting rooms and yards.

“Since the partial ban was not working in order to ensure a safe, healthy, smoke-free environment, we decided to move towards the total ban,” said Lynn Brunette, a spokeswoman for the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).

The remaining medium- and minimum-security institutions will see the ban in place by the beginning of June.

Lyle Stewart, a spokesman for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said contingency plans are in place to deal with any backlash from angry inmates, but said there have been no major incidents so far.

“What we would be worried about is if there’s any organized attempt to lead a riot or revolt of some sort. That’s what the biggest danger is,” Stewart said.

He added that the full effect of the ban probably won’t be felt until hidden stockpiles of cigarettes are depleted.

The ban applies to all guards and staff as well as prisoners. Last year, Canada’s federal prison system handled almost 20,000 inmates, three-quarters of whom are smokers.

Inmates and staff have been given educational materials and smoking-cessation aids to help them quit.

However, prisoners’ rights advocates say the total ban goes too far.

“It’s an unreasonable invasion of their rights and privileges -- the very, very minimal that remain,” said Davies Bagambiire, a human rights lawyer based in Toronto.

Others argue the wider ban will only increase the value of cigarettes as “currency.”

“Tobacco is already a highly valued commodity inside a federal prison,” said Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada in Kingston, Ontario.

“You use it to buy and trade favors. So CSC is taking what is already a highly valued commodity and making it extremely valuable. And that sets up the ... potential for abuse between those who have access to tobacco, which is guards and staff, and those who don‘t,” Jones said.

Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by Rob Wilson

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