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Our Opinion: Prohibit smoking in prisons

Our Opinion: Prohibit smoking in prisons

February 20th, 2011 in News

Extending the smoke-free initiative to Missouri's prisons is long overdue.

Not only are the prisons publicly funded facilities where smoking befouls the working environment of public employees, the health consequences and care of inmates are paid by taxpayers.

Companion bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to prohibit the use of tobacco products in any area of a state correctional center or surrounding grounds.

The sponsors - Rep. Chris Molendorp, R-Belton, and Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay - said their respective proposals were prompted by both public health and cost concerns.

Lembke referenced spending cuts needed to balance the budget. "In this budget climate," he said, "we've got a huge line-item here of $142 million in health care costs in our prisons."

Admittedly, not all those costs are directly connected to smoking-related illnesses. But, as Molendorp observed: "We're paying for the health care of inmates who are suffering from respiratory illness ... caused by smoking and, particularly, smoking in an enclosed place."

The sticking point, obviously, is repercussions from angry inmates that might disrupt operations and jeopardize safety.

Missouri, however, can benefit from the experiences of 17 other states cited by Molendorp that have implemented smoke-free prisons.

In keeping with that concept, he intends to offer a House substitute to implement smoking-cessation programs similar to those used in those other states.

The proposals to end smoking in prison facilities deserve public support, for their dual ability to decrease state spending and to advance public health.