Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182

For immediate release:

Tuesday July 20, 1999

DOCS begins phase-in of ban on indoor smoking in state prisons

Tobacco smoking exceeding 73 million cigarettes a year will decrease substantially by the end of 2000 when a phased-in no-smoking ban is implemented inside all state prison buildings next year, Commissioner Glenn S. Goord announced today. Currently, $8 million is spent annually by 71,000 inmates to buy and pay state and federal taxes on cigarettes in prison commissaries. There is no estimate of smoking among the system's 32,000 employees.

The ban on indoor smoking will be gradually accomplished in four phases, and is scheduled to be fully implemented on January 1, 2001. There currently are no plans to eliminate outdoor smoking at state prisons. However, Commissioner Goord noted that outdoor smoking could also be eliminated if the gradual phase-out of indoor smoking is not adhered to. The ban will not affect smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco. The four phases of eliminating smoking are:

  • Between now and December 31, during the first phase of the program, inmates are being notified of the plan to eliminate all indoor smoking and the timetable for implementation. During this six-month period, current smoking regulations will remain in effect: inmates can still smoke in their cells and on the cellblocks; in their cubicles and dormitories; in dayrooms and television rooms, and outside.
  • During the second phase of the plan - from January 1 to June 30, 2000 - inmates' indoor smoking will be limited to their housing units. In medium- and minimum-security facilities, there will be no smoking in dayrooms and television rooms. In maximum-security facilities, indoor smoking will be restricted to living areas: cellblocks, galleries and tiers. Outdoor smoking will continue to be permitted.
  • Between July 1 and December 31, 2000, during the third phase of the program, inmates will only be able to smoke in their assigned sleeping areas. No smoking will be permitted outside an inmate's cell, cubicle or room. All outdoor smoking will continue to be permitted as currently authorized.
  • During the final phase of the plan, which takes effect January 1, 2001, smoking will be prohibited within all facility buildings. All outdoor smoking will continue to be permitted as currently authorized. Between January 1 and June 30, 2001, facilities will carefully monitor whether or not there is substantial compliance with the indoor smoking ban. The overall effectiveness and success of the ban will be evaluated after this six-month phase.

"There are numerous compelling reasons which support the elimination of indoor smoking in the closed, congregate quarters of our prisons," said Commissioner Goord. "The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the failure to provide particular inmates with a smoke-free environment may constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. Furthermore, New York's own statute, the Clean Indoor Air Act, states that our employees are entitled to a smoke-free workplace. In several instances, the courts have found liability based upon the breach of a duty owed to a nonsmoker; however, no court has ever ruled that an inmate or an employee has a constitutional right to smoke in prisons where movement is controlled.

"Additionally," continued Commissioner Goord, "exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) has been linked to a number of adverse health conditions, including lung cancer, asthma and lower respiratory tract infections. The Surgeon General has also concluded that the simple separation of smokers and nonsmokers within the same air space may reduce, but does not eliminate, the exposure of nonsmokers to ETS. Because of the congregate nature of prisons, the problems of ETS within prisons can only be solved by the complete elimination of ETS from all prison buildings."

The indoor smoking ban also will mean enhanced safety and security for staff and others within the state prison system.

"One of the benefits of the indoor smoking ban in prisons is that it will eliminate a fire hazard source," said Commissioner Goord. "In addition, the ban will remove a cause of tension and arguments between inmates who smoke and those who don't, thereby reducing fights and the potential for violence. That is another major benefit for our employees."

Some other states imposed an immediate and complete ban on smoking and tobacco products within their prisons. Commissioner Goord said New York's decision to notify inmates and staff now of the impending ban on indoor smoking should allow for a relatively smoother transition. Education, counseling and a variety of support services - including smoking cessation devices - also will be made available to the prison population.

The plan to ban indoor smoking was compiled by Department officials and representatives of the four unions which represent DOCS employees following an intensive review of smoking policies in other state prison systems. Following that review, officials felt a gradual phase-in of the ban, preceded by a suitable notification and education period, would provide the best chance of successful implementation.

Concurrent with the gradual implementation of the indoor smoking ban, the amount of cigarettes and other tobacco products that inmates can possess at any given time, receive through the mail or purchase at prison commissaries will be reduced.

"In the event problems persist with the enforcement of the indoor smoking ban during the final phase, then this Department will be forced to consider a change that will prohibit smoking entirely, and ban all forms of tobacco and tobacco products," said Commissioner Goord.

Restrictions on staff smoking in non-inmate contact areas and other areas staffed by DOCS employees are being finalized. However, all Department employees also will be prohibited from smoking in common indoor areas - like dayrooms and cellblocks - when smoking becomes banned in those areas under the four-phase plan.

"When any indoor area of a correctional facility becomes smoke-free under our phase-in plan, no one - no one - will be permitted to smoke in that area," said Commissioner Goord.

Initiatives are currently underway at all facilities to inform inmates and staff of the dangers of smoking and the benefits of quitting in an effort to ensure a smooth transition to the indoor smoking ban. Publications and articles about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke will be made available in inmate libraries. Facility commissaries are making arrangements to stock tobacco patches for purchase by those inmates who wish to quit smoking. An American Lung Association video on the benefits of not smoking and ways to kick the habit will be shown during the academic and vocational programming cycles.