Right to fresh air and safety


The government’s ban on smoking in prisons has been ruled unlawful.

Someone with a better understanding of the law than I have might be able to explain why.

I’d have thought the right for other prisoners and staff to breathe fresh air trumped that of smokers’. The danger to prisoners and staff from fire would be another justification for the ban.

The legal ruling appears to be academic anyway.

Corrections chief Ray Smith says prisons will remain smoke-free.

Law changes that came into force in March make it clear that tobacco products are unauthorised items and therefore it is against the law to bring them into a prison. They also make it an offence to smoke tobacco or any other substance inside a prison.

These amendments also address the issue of prisoners challenging penalties handed out to them for possessing tobacco products ruling out compensation for them.

Implementing smokefree prisons was always going to be a serious challenge and it has gone incredibly well and without major incident. We are the first national prison service to achieve this.

Since the introduction of smokefree prisons on 1 July 2011 our prison staff report a better and healthier work environment for both themselves and prisoners. Independent research has confirmed that air quality in our prisons has improved, and there has been a significant drop in fires.

For many sentenced and remand prisoners giving up smoking has led to a positive improvement in their lives, with better health and savings in money spent on tobacco products.

The ban was preceded by an extensive 12 month campaign led by Corrections and supported by the Ministry of Health and the Quit Group to encourage smoking cessation for prisoners and staff. This gave prisoners and staff the opportunity, support and motivation to attempt to stop or reduce their smoking prior to 1 July 2011. Many took up this opportunity and gave up smoking early.

Since July 2011 prisoners have been able to spend more money on phone cards and increase their contact with family and friends. They have also been engaging more with staff and available activities.

We have been able to provide a healthier, safer environment for staff and prisoners.

Better work environment, improved air quality, fewer fires, more money to spend on phone cards and a healthier, safer environment are all very good reasons for the ban to continue.

No fires without smokes


Opposition MPs and unions predicted dire consequences when the ban on smoking in prisons was instituted.

What’s actually happened?  Corrections Minister Judith Collins reported there’s been almost no fires since the smokes were banned:

The ban has been in place since 1 July. It followed 12 months of careful planning and preparation by Corrections staff, supported by the Ministry of Health and Quitline.

“I would like to congratulate the Corrections Department for the successful implementation of this policy,” Ms Collins said.

“There has been a noticeable improvement in air quality within our prisons since the ban came into effect.

“Since 1 July there has also been a significant reduction in the number of fire and arson-related incidents. There were only four such incidents in July and one so far in August compared to 18 incidents in the month prior to the ban.

“The result is that our prisons are much safer and healthier places for Corrections staff.”

Labour copped a lot of flack for banning smoking in bars because of the way they did it. Instead of promoting it as an OSH issue for staff – with which it would have been very difficult to argue – they took the nanny-state we-know-what’s-good-for-you approach.

By contrast, the smoking ban in prisons was instituted as a workplace health and safety measure, a by-product of that will be better health for prisoners.

Stop them starting


Smoking used to be socially acceptable almost anywhere.

Forty years ago it was rare for people to ask if others minded if they smoked, even in the homes of non-smokers.

Gradually that changed and people started asking, though at first it was a token gesture in the expectation that no-one would say no.

Then as legal restrictions on smoking in enclosed public places increased it became socially unacceptable elsewhere. Now it’s rare for a smoker to ask if anyone minds if they smoke, they don’t expect to smoke inside.

There’s nothing glamorous about standing outside in all weathers getting your tobacco fix and I’ve wondered why that, combined  with steep increases in prices, hasn’t led to a decrease in people who start smoking. At last it has.

The Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) survey which has been run yearly since 1999, showed 5.6 percent of students aged 14 to 15 (year 10) smoked daily, compared to 15.6 percent when the survey started.

The survey also revealed 64 percent of students had not taken a single puff of tobacco, compared to 31.6 percent in 1999.

An encouraging trend revealed in the survey was the reduction in smoking across different ethnicities, the report’s author Janine Paynter said.

“We’re seeing that some of the inequalities in tobacco use are closing and it is particularly encouraging to see a decent reduction in the daily smoking rate for Pacific girls,” Dr Paynter said.

The easiest place to stop smoking is before you start and it is very unusual for adults to start.

A drop in the number of young people starting is an encouraging sign that smoking may at last be a dying habit.

Why fags and not booze?


The Law Commission’s suggestion of a steep increase in the price of alcohol got no traction but parliament went into extraordinary urgency to increase the tax on tobacco.

Why one and not the other?

It is possible to use alcohol in a way which does no harm to the user or others.

You can’t do that with tobacco.

The immediate increase in tax on cigarettes and loose tobacco had almost unanimous support in parliament – just four Act MPs voted against the measure.

Tobacco is price sensitive. An increase in price always leads to a decrease in use.

It impacts particularly on young people and makes it less likely they’ll start smoking.

Limit to effectiveness of price rises


Several friends who have given up smoking did so when the price went up.

Tariana Turia wants the price to go even further.

That will no doubt deter some smokers and prevent some from starting, but there is a limit to the effectiveness of price rises.

If the price goes up too high for legal purchases it provides an incentive for illegal ones.

In Australia there is already a booming criminal market for tobacco and the same thing could happen here if the price goes too high.

Tobacco can grow in New Zealand and we’ve got a long coastline which would help smugglers.

I don’t like smoking. But the temptation to tax tobacco too highly must be tempered by the knowledge that there comes a point at which the high price stops working as a deterrent. Instead it just makes smuggling and illegal growing sufficiently lucrative to be worth the risk of getting caught.

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