CIEH supports enforcement for smoke-free prisons after landmark ruling

Publication Date: 10th March 2015

Subject: Public health

The CIEH has today supported a ruling that could see prisoners and prison staff facing prosecution for smoking in communal areas following a court ruling supporting a prisoner’s right to be protected from second-hand tobacco smoke.

Under the Health Act 2006 all indoor areas in prisons are required to be smoke-free with the exception of cells occupied solely by smokers aged 18 or over, whilst all prisons with under-18 inmates were required to go totally smoke free.

However, Paul Black, an inmate at HMP Wymott, argued that he is regularly exposed to second hand tobacco smoke on prison landings, in the laundry room and even in healthcare waiting rooms and that he should be given access to the NHS smoke-free compliance phone line to report infringements to the rules. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has previously upheld a prison governor’s decision to not allow prisoner access to the line.

Shaheen Rahman, representing Mr Black, argued that his client had only been given access to the NHS compliance line after he had launched the judicial review. Being the only inmate with access to the line opened him up to victimisation and fell short of his request for all inmates to have access to the line to enable enforcement of the legislation.

The government has previously argued that state prisons, as Crown premises, are exempt from the smoke-free legislation. In his ruling Mr Justice Singh said that parliament intended the law to apply to all public places including those the Crown was responsible for.

Ian Gray, CIEH Principal Policy officer, said: “People who are accommodated or work in prisons, or who visit them, are entitled to expect the same level of health protection as is provided for other people.”

When the smoke-free legislation was first introduced the prison service made a commitment to move towards a totally smoke-free prison estate. But according to Mr Gray any moves towards achieving such a commitment have been disappointingly slow. “Plans for implementation by ‘early adopters’ have been repeatedly delayed and the government should not be surprised if serious frustration and resentment has built up,” said Mr Gray.

Smoking has not been allowed in mental health units in England since July 2008, including those which have to maintain a high level of security, such as Broadmoor and Rampton. Smokefree prisons have already been successfully implemented by other countries as well as administrations close to home such as Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

The CIEH is now advising that local authorities, despite reductions in resources, should be prioritising health protection and requiring their Environmental Health Officers, as their authorised officers, to respond to complaints and inspect prisons for compliance.

The new ruling will not take effect until Justice Secretary Grayling has been given the opportunity to launch an appeal.

It is estimated that around 80 per cent of inmates aged over-18 smoke.

Notes to editors: 

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About the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH): 

  • The CIEH is the professional voice for environmental health representing over 10,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. It ensures the highest standards of professional competence in its members, in the belief that through environmental health action people's health can be improved
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