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Prison is bad enough without being forced to give up smoking

Amid serious issues, should cigarettes really top the agenda?

No one doubts that cigarettes are bad for the health. Smoking also stinks – or at least it does to those who do not do it. But still the move to turn Britain’s prisons into smoke-free zones is hard to take seriously.

Most obviously, there is the question of priorities. Amid such serious issues as stubbornly high recidivism rates, say, or creakingly ancient jails, should cigarettes really top the agenda?

The Prison Officers Association, which has campaigned on the subject for some years, says that the current free-for-all risks law suits from passive smokers. Perhaps. But an outright ban, as is now proposed by the Prison Service, not only takes the restrictions of jail a step too far, it is also simply unnecessary. What is wrong with designated areas? Or lighting up outside only?

Finally, there are the simple practicalities to consider. Four of every five prisoners smoke and some incendiary commentators are already predicting riots if the ban goes ahead. At best, it creates yet more opportunities for friction.

As much as smoking stinks, then, this plan stinks more.