Jails could sell e-cigarettes to inmates

Posted August 8, 2014

— A bill awaiting Gov. Pat McCrory's signature would allow county jails across North Carolina to sell e-cigarettes to inmates.

The provision, requested by the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association, is tucked into House Bill 1133, the Technical Corrections omnibus. It reverses a law passed earlier this year that would have banned inmates from possessing "vapor products," or electronic cigarettes.

The measure specifically gives jails the authority to "give or sell" inmates e-cigarettes or smoking cessation items such as nicotine lozenges or patches. It does not apply to state prisons.

"There are a number of jails across the state that allow their inmates to purchase these e-cigarettes," said Sheriffs' Association director Eddie Caldwell. 

Smoking was banned on the grounds of North Carolina prisons and jails in March 2010. Since then, however, jail staff have had to contend with inmates suffering from nicotine withdrawal. Some have turned to e-cigarettes as the solution.

"Traditional cigarettes create a risk of fire, a risk of secondhand smoke and other things like that," Caldwell said, "that at least as far as I’ve heard are not a problem with e-cigarettes."

Under the provision, it would still be a misdemeanor for anyone outside the jail to give an e-cigarette to an inmate. Backers of the provision say that's because many are made of metal and could be turned in homemade knives or weapons.  

But it would no longer be a crime for an inmate to possess an e-cigarette as long as he or she bought it from the jail commissary. According to Caldwell, the commissaries would be allowed to sell specially made plastic e-cigarettes that couldn't easily be turned into weapons.  

The jails also could make a profit from the sales.

"Typically, the canteen does make money for the county. In a lot of cases, that funds the inmate welfare fund, which provides for inmates that don't have any money," Caldwell said. 

Early versions of the bill would have allowed the sale of the devices only to inmates "involved in an authorized smoking cessation program." That language was removed after health advocates argued that e-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved smoking cessation tool. Studies have shown they're no more effective than nicotine patches in the long run.

However, health advocates still have concerns about local governments selling an addictive substance – nicotine – to a captive population for a profit.

"Why do these e-cigarettes need to be provided at all?” asked North Carolina Alliance for Health director Pam Seamans. "It certainly makes us scratch our heads.

"All state prisons are tobacco-free – they have to help [inmates] break that addiction," Seamans said.

Scientists still don't know enough about the long-term effect of using the vapor devices or inhaling the vapor secondhand, she said.

"If they think that using an electronic cigarette in a smoke-free environment is OK, that’s questionable in terms of health effects," she said.

According to the state Department of Public Health, 26 of the 65 compounds found in e-cigarettes are on the FDA's list of harmful and potentially harmful substances. Seamans says the FDA is in the process of regulating the devices as a tobacco product but hasn't yet been able to say precisely what's in them. 

RJR Vapor, a subsidiary of tobacco giant Reynolds American, is in the process of rolling out a new disposable electronic cigarette, Vuse, that will be manufactured in North Carolina.  

If the governor signs the bill or allows it to become law without his signature, it would take effect Dec. 1.


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  • streetglide Aug 13, 2014

    yes it is,, very additive, but so is crime and hope they stop that while in jail as well.. I quit cold turkey after smoking for 20+ years, so guess what, no luxury in jail,, suffer and do without all the fine things that people get that do not commit crime. What will it be next,, small doses of cocaine, since they are addicted to that also,, its called jail for a reason!! Punishment remember!! GEEEEZ!

  • ALLIN Aug 12, 2014

    Hey, I don't want to be exposed to second hand oily vapor smoke. Seems like it is like sucking on a tail pipe?

  • 678devilish Aug 12, 2014

    Don't think the prisoners would go for that. They would want the real deal.

  • Maureen Mercer Aug 11, 2014
    user avatar

    Trading one addiction for another. Does not help smokers quit. E-cigarettes should not be allowed in Jail and that includes use by employees.

  • dwntwnboy2 Aug 11, 2014

    It's going to boil down to how much profit can the jail make off of this. It has NOTHING to do with the health of the prisoner, as the county and state really don't care- they only care about ONE thing, the bottom line. Can they make some money on this while they have a captive audience that is addicted to a substance. The county sees it as a way to jack up the price to whatever they want so they can make a buck. They tipped their hand in the article.

  • Virginia Ryce Aug 11, 2014
    user avatar

    Forget the battery. There is a heater inside! That is how the liquid becomes a vapor. No, no, NO!!!! This is so wrong!

  • heelhawk Aug 11, 2014

    While people are, in fact, in prison for committing crimes; studies have shown that completely depriving them of all comforts increases the recidivism rate. Let them have a vapor smoke. For those of you thinking we coddle and pamper prisoners too much...... Maybe you should visit a prison and see sometime. I promise you they are not pampered.

  • Classified Aug 11, 2014

    View quoted thread

    The inmates would have to purchase their "nictine" so what's the problem?

  • WakeForestLiving Aug 11, 2014

    This is absurd. Counties should not be in the business of providing nictine to inmates.

  • mwhall115 Aug 11, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Or maybe we could just take away their water. I mean hey they could drown somebody. Or their clothes? We would hate for someone to get strangled by a pants leg. Mops and brooms? No way! It's not about having a "happy hour." It's also not about rewarding inmates in prison. This is in the jails where the majority have not been found guilty yet.