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Cigarette Smoking Bans in County Jails -- Wisconsin, 1991

In the United States, an increasing number of prisons and jails are adopting restrictions on cigarette smoking (1,2); these restrictions could affect approximately 10 million inmates (3). Although the importance of smoking restrictions in the workplace and some public places (e.g., health-care facilities, schools, and public transportation) has been well described (4), information about smoking restrictions in jails is limited. This report summarizes preliminary findings from a survey of sheriffs in Wisconsin to assess the development of policies and to characterize smoking restrictions among county jails in the state.

During November 1991, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services and CDC conducted a statewide survey of all 72 county jails by mailing a questionnaire to the sheriffs responsible for the jails. The questionnaire asked about the current smoking policy in the jail, plans to change current policy, and the number of admissions to the jail during 1990. Of the 72 sheriffs, 64 (89%) participated in the survey.

During 1990, there were approximately 150,000 admissions * to county jails in Wisconsin; the average number of admissions per jail was 2405 (range: 60-22,164; median: 900). Information on the length of stay of persons incarcerated and their smoking habits was available for two jails. For the first jail, during November-December 1991, the average length of stay for the 1824 inmates was 18 days (range: 1-495; median: 2); 545 (30%) inmates stayed longer than 1 week; and 686 (71%) inmates surveyed smoked cigarettes. For the second jail, during November-December 1991, the average length of stay for the 1052 inmates was 29 days (range: 1-439; median: 6); 508 (48%) inmates stayed longer than 1 week; and 271 (93%) inmates surveyed smoked cigarettes.

Of the 64 jails, 21 (33%) had policies that banned smoking for inmates; 15 (23%) had smoking-restriction policies; and 28 (44%) had no policies to restrict smoking (Table 1). During 1992, sheriffs at 32 (50%) jails plan to ban or continue their ban on smoking; sheriffs at 16 (25%) jails plan to implement policies or continue policies to restrict smoking; and sheriffs at 16 (25%) jails have no plans to implement smoking restrictions or bans. During 1992, sheriffs at two of the 21 jails where smoking is banned plan to rescind the ban.

Of the 43 jails where inmates were allowed to smoke (15 with and 28 without restrictions), 13 plan to ban smoking in 1992. Implementation of these bans will prevent nearly 88,000 (60%) inmates statewide from being exposed to tobacco smoke.

Reported by: RF Raemisch, DL Listug, JM Norwick, Dane County Sheriff's Dept; J Black, R Loveland, Rock County Sheriff's Dept, H Krause, Rock County Health Office; HA Anderson, MD, State Environmental Epidemiologist, P Remington, MD, State Chronic Disease Epidemiologist, Div of Health, Wisconsin Dept of Health and Social Svcs. Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Div of Field Epidemiology, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: In the United States, restrictions on smoking in public places are increasing in number and comprehensiveness (5). Although the primary goal of such restrictions is to protect persons who do not smoke from the unhealthy consequences of involuntary exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, they may also help to reduce smoking prevalence by changing attitudes and behaviors of current and potential smokers (5).

In Wisconsin and other locations, county jail administrators have initiated bans on cigarette smoking because 1) cigarettes are a safety hazard (i.e., cigarettes and materials used to light them may cause fires); 2) cigarettes may be used to smuggle other illicit drugs into jail; 3) awareness has increased about the negative health effects of active and passive smoking; and 4) some jail administrators are increasingly concerned about the legal rights of nonsmoking inmates to a smoke-free environment (6,7).

This survey has at least two limitations. First, no information was collected regarding the implementation of the smoking policies (e.g., time of introduction, problems in implementation, and enforcement). Second, only limited information was available on the length of stay of persons incarcerated and their smoking habits.

In the United States, more than one third of persons who are incarcerated are kept in custody in local jails, and the average length of stay in county jails varies (8). Although most nicotine withdrawal symptoms decrease dramatically during the first week of abstinence (9) (substantially less than the average length of stay for a sentenced county jail inmate (8)), it is unknown whether forced abstinence from nicotine encourages smokers to quit. However, if smokers who overcome the most severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms would consider quitting smoking, smoking-cessation counseling programs for these inmates before their release may offer an opportunity to reach otherwise inaccessible segments of the population. In Wisconsin, efforts have been initiated to assess the effects of different jail smoking policies on the desire of inmate smokers to quit smoking after they are released.


  1. Romero CA, Connell FA. A survey of prison policies regarding smoking and tobacco. Journal of Prison and Jail Health 1988;7:27-36.

  2. Skolnick A. While some correctional facilities go smoke-free, others appear to help inmates to light up. JAMA 1990;264:1509-13.

  3. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Jail inmates, 1990. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, June 1991; document no. NCJ-129756. (Bureau of Justice Statistics bulletin).

  4. Public Health Service. Healthy people 2000: national health promotion and disease prevention objectives--full report, with commentary. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1991; DHHS publication no. (PHS)91-50212.

  5. CDC. Reducing the health consequences of smoking: 25 years of progress--a report of the Surgeon General, 1989. Rockville, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1989; DHHS publication no. (CDC)89-8411.

  6. Burke TW. Second hand smoke and health risks have staff and inmates fuming. Corrections Today 1990;152-5.

  7. Cohen F. Exposure to secondary smoke survives 8th amendment attack. Correctional Law Reporter 1991;3:57-8.

  8. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Correctional populations in the United States, 1989. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1991; publication no. NCJ-130445.

  9. Cummings MK, Giovino GA, Jaen CR, Emrich LJ. Reports of smoking withdrawal symptoms over a 21-day period of abstinence. Addict Behav 1985;10:373-81.

    • A person may have been admitted more than once.

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