Thursday, January 29, 2009

Prisons snuff out tobacco products

Corrections officer Rod Coston spends his afternoons and evenings guarding prison inmates as they walk between buildings at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia.
Most days, he smokes a pack of online cigarettes during his eight hours on the job. But starting next Sunday, Coston won't be able to turn to his favorite stress reliever while he's at work.
The state's 41 prisons go tobacco-free that day. Until then, inmates and prison staff can continue smoking in outdoor prison areas, although they haven't been able to smoke inside since the 1990s.
"I don't even know if I'm capable of going eight hours without a cigarette," said Coston, 46, who smokes around 20 cigarettes a day on the job and another pack away from work. "It's part of me, and I don't know if I can physically do it. I won't know until I do walk in on that day and see if I can get through the day."
Corrections officials began moving toward the total tobacco ban a year ago, when lawmakers put language into the 2008 corrections budget bill requiring prisons to be tobacco free.
The department offered inmates smoking cessation classes as it readied for the ban to take effect. Inmates have been able to buy fewer cigarettes and more nicotine patches and gum at prison stores in recent months, and no cigarettes have been sold since Jan. 1. Visitors have been told they won't be able to bring tobacco products into the prisons.