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There are fears that prison unrest and riots could break out as a result of a proposed smoking ban in UK gaols. The new ruling coming into force next year means that prisoners in England and Wales will be unable to smoke in any place in a prison, including exercise-yards.
Estimates suggest that around 80 percent of UK prisoners are smokers, with tobacco a valuable form of currency inside. Plans to issue prisoners with nicotine patches are unlikely to calm the situation.
The scheme will be tried out in the South-West before being brought into all prisons. The suggestion is that there would be a complete ban on the use of tobacco products from April. It's a response to complaints by prison officers that they had to work in a polluted environment and fears that the government could face legal action under the 2007 act that was designed to protect workers from smoking fumes.
Prison officers will now be at the forefront of any prisoner backlash. Steve Gillan, the general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, admitted to The Times that prison officers would face difficulties enforcing the ban. "There is no pretending otherwise," he said. "It could cause disturbances but they have done it successfully in Canada and in young offender institutions in England and Wales. We welcome this move. It is our policy to have smoke-free prisons for our members. We will work with the ministry to make sure it works effectively."
The ban will come at a difficult time, with prison officers already stretched and British prisons suffering from an illegal drugs culture. Adding one of the few comforts available to prisoners to the prohibited substances list could spark a summer of riots in 2014. Future prison dramas are also likely to look a lot less gritty, without those whispered dialogues over the exercise-yard cigarette.