Assembly Committee Passes Bill To Ban Inmate Smoking
The Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday voted 5-1 to approve a bill (AB 384) that would ban smoking for California prison inmates as part of an effort to reduce the cost of inmate health care, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports. Under the bill, the sale of tobacco products at prison commissaries and canteens would be prohibited (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/13). The tobacco ban also would apply to inmates at California Youth Authority facilities but not to prison staff, the Los Angeles Times reports. Margot Bach, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said that more than 50% of the state's 161,000 prisoners smoke. The Times reports that the health care budget for inmates "has been soaring" in recent years, from $566 million in 2000 to $975 million this year. Assembly member Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City), the bill's sponsor, said that the bill could save the state as much as $280 million per year in smoking-related inmate medical costs. Smoking is already prohibited in eight of the state's 32 prisons that serve as medical facilities or as reception centers for incoming prisoners. Enactment of the bill would make California the 18th state to ban tobacco use in all prisons, the Times reports (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 1/14). The bill now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for consideration (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/13).
"This bill is both a common sense way to save the state money and it will help make our prison population healthier," Leslie said, adding, "We're not looking to further punish prisoners. We see this as a way of helping them, that if they can survive quitting this habit then maybe they can reform their lives in other ways, too" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/13). However, critics of the bill said that it provides no medical or psychological help for inmates who are forced to quit smoking. Jim Lindburg of the Friends Committee on Legislation of California said, "There is no nicotine gum, no patch, no smoking cessation program offered here. Smoking is a serious health problem, and we need to take a wiser approach to it" (Los Angeles Times, 1/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.