Vaping Success in UK Prisons

The World Health Organisation is warning about tobacco use and secondhand smoke in European prisons with tobacco use prevalence rates as high as 90% among men and 85% among women. What it is missing from its report is that a tobacco ban combined with initial free ecigs has resulted in all the prisons in Great Britain being completely smokefree indoors and outdoors (except for open prisons).

smoking in prisonWhile a remarkable decline in smoking rates has been observed in the general population,” says the World Health Organisation, “where tobacco control policies are being implemented, no comparable changes have occurred in prison settings.”

It says that tobacco-smoking in prisons is the least addressed of the health risks posed by abuse of all substances and uses selective data to support its argument. For example, the World Health Organisation says that 85% of women smoke in prison in the United Kingdom.

People in prisons face high exposure to second-hand smoke due to smoking among people living in prisons and staff and the fact that most of their time is spent indoors. Member States can be guided by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).”


  • Duty to protect all people – The effective way to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air inside public places and at workplaces is to adopt and enact complete smoke-free policies.

The World Health Organisation uses the release of its factsheet to call for countries on the continent to address smoking in prison settings, forgetting to note that Great Britain already has.

“The provision of e-cigarettes is considered by the prison service to have been a ‘game changer’ in helping facilitate a successful transition to smokefree” – Action on Smoking and Health

Charity Action on Smoking and Health responded: “We would like to highlight that all prisons in Great Britain are completely smokefree indoors and outdoors, with the exception of open prisons. This was not made clear in the World Health Organisation article regarding tobacco use in prisons in Europe.”

All category D prisons in all prisons in England and Wales went smokefree inside in 2015. The process was rolled out across the prison estate and finished in 2018, totalling over 82,000 prisoners in 103 prisons and thousands of staff.

While the smokefree move was being debated, many voices warned that making prisons smokefree would be dangerous. Trials involving supplying free vapes to prisoners in Guernsey and the Isle of Man proved exceptionally successful in 2013. This provided encouragement to move forward.

Action on Smoking and Health state: “E-cigarettes were introduced as an alternative to smoking in prison shops in phase one of the project in August 2015. Initially only disposable e-cigarettes were available, but after trials rechargeable devices were introduced. In addition, an advance purchase scheme was introduced for prisoners with insufficient funds to purchase e-cigarettes, to reduce debt and other associated problems.

“The provision of e-cigarettes is considered by the prison service to have been a ‘game changer’ in helping facilitate a successful transition to smokefree. Prior to the project starting around 50,000 prisoners were buying tobacco, as of July 2018 prison shops were selling over 65,000 vaping products weekly to over 33,000 prisoners and sales have continued to increase since then.”

Hopefully, the World Health Organisation takes note of Action on Smoking and Health’s supportive comments on vaping and incorporates them in future factsheets.

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