The subject of imprisonment has few equals for highlighting partisanship. Chris Trotter writing on ‘Prison Smoking Ban Out to Hurt,’ Otago Daily Times 2nd July, made some good points about the comfort value of smoking but went on to suggest that a cigarette has the power to calm “pain, anger and confusion tearing your guts to shreds.” I doubt that even Phillip Morris in the good old days would have gone that far.
Chris Trotter went on to suggest that we forget for a moment the indisputable evidence of cigarette smoking’s fatal effects and acknowledge the “smoker’ heroic status.” This was merely a precursor to the point of the article:
According to Trotter, the ban on cigarettes in prison has nothing to do with health and everything to do with giving us, the law-abiding majority, the opportunity to really hurt prisoners by taking away their last shred of autonomy. In other words, it’s all about spite. There is some truth in this. Spite is one of the common emotional responses to criminal acts, and, I would suggest, a natural one. But a moment or two of thought would suggest that spite is merely a by-product of the no-smoking-in-prison legislation.
As an ex smoker I have sympathy for prisoners who are going to be deprived of their fags. They are more vulnerable than the rest of us. When the urge is upon them they cannot divert it by going for a run or having a coffee with a square of chocolate. But I have even more sympathy for the inmates of psychiatric institutions who are going to experience a ban on smoking not next year but today.
Yet, given the evidence that smoking destroys health, it is hard to reasonably argue against a ban on smoking in hospitals. Hospitals make for an interesting comparison with prisons because we pause when we think of ‘innocent’ inmates of an institution being deprived of the fag that calms their nerves. Cannabis also calms the nerves. This train of thought could be interesting but for the moment I’ll restrict myself to practicality. The ideal solution; separating psychiatric and prison inmates and staff into smoking and non smoking buildings, is not practicable and never will be.
So, we have this new law, which in my view is a pragmatic response, more to do with the fear of litigation than concern about health. We live in an age of litigant’s suing residential institutions and Governments for neglect or abuses perpetrated generations ago. Who would have a better case than a non-smoking prison inmate forced to share a cell with a smoker for years?
Talking of hate, imagine a bitter ex prisoner lying in a hospital bed right now dying of lung cancer. Never smoked in his life but shared a cell with smokers for years. Would he, I wonder, conclude that we forced him to share a cell with smokers because we hated him.