Prison guards want smoke-free workplaces

Nearly two-thirds of prisoners smoke and union representing guards wants prisons to be treated like any other workplace

Correctional officers in Australia want prisons to be treated like any other workplace and want smoking to be banned.

The Queensland Prison Officers Association (QPOA), the union representing prison guards in the state of Queensland, Australia, fears officers will fall victim to the illnesses associated with second-hand smoke, including cancer and heart disease according to a report in a Brisbane newspaper.

Jails are the only public buildings in Queensland that do not have a complete smoking ban.

Brian Newman, a QPOA spokesperson, said any ban could lead to prison riots and increased assaults on guards, but said the group will press the issue anyway.

Newman said some officers have cited respiratory problems and irritation to they eyes as reasons for taking days off sick.

“Among our ranks there are some fairly health-conscious characters and obviously they are fundamentally opposed to smoking and we are concerned about the effects of passive smoking on our members,” said Newman. “It is very reasonable to say that should one of these people, God forbid, get lung cancer from second-hand smoke then they would have a very good case for workers’ compensation.”

At least two-thirds of the prison population are smokers in Australia, according to rough estimates. Prisoners are given a 50-gram bag of tobacco as standard issue along with toiletries and clothes when they enter a prison in Queensland, Newman said.

Newman said alternatives to a total ban on smoking could include a program to help prisoners quit, having those caught smoking outside of designated areas to be put in solitary confinement and restrict the handling of tobacco to outdoor areas only.

Smoking is prohibited in enclosed areas, excluding the visitors areas, but Newman said the rules are largely ignored and prisoners smoke in enclosed, air-conditioned rooms.

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