A high court judge has ruled that the U.K public-places smoking ban must be enforced in state prisons despite the possibility of unrest this could provoke in jails throughout England and Wales. According to Justice Singh, the justice secretary misunderstood an exemption made in 2006 to health legislation that banned smoking in workplaces and enclosed public spaces. Although the government had argued that state prisons were exempt from smoke-free legislation because of their status as Crown premises, Justice Singh ruled that prison communal areas are subject to the laws, therefore the smoking ban must be extended to such locations.
The exemption in the 2006 Health Act indicated that smoking is allowed in enclosed public places where a person resides permanently or temporarily, which includes prisons, hotels and long-term care facilities. However, the exemption also states that these places should provide designated smoking rooms to avoid subjecting other residents and staff members to secondhand smoke. According to The Guardian, more than 80 percent of prisoners smoke, and the justice ministry fought for the exemption when the health legislation went through parliament—partly in response to warnings by prison governors and unions who said banning smoking in prisons could trigger turmoil among prisoners who use tobacco as currency as well as a legal stimulant.
To continue providing prisoners with access to nicotine—but also to protect nonsmoking prisoners and staff members from the dangers of secondhand smoke—three U.K. prisons now offer e-cigarettes, which are generally believed to be less harmful than their combustible counterparts. Prisoners are currently permitted to smoke combustible cigarettes in their prison cells—as long as the smoker is over the age of 18 and the door is closed—as well as in outside exercise yards, but they cannot use these products in communal spaces.
Justice Singh has postponed the implementation of the ban and granted the justice secretary time to appeal against the ruling.