Local News

Prison Tobacco Ban Raises Concern About Smoking At Legislative Building

Posted August 5, 2005 11:01 a.m. EDT

— Is a prison ban on smoking to save money on health care hypocritical?

Rising health care costs are one reason lawmakers want to ban tobacco in all state prisons. Some lawmakers, however, still light up inside state buildings and taxpayers cover their health care costs.

Some lawmakers said it might sound hypocritical, but old habits, and history, are hard to break.

Of the 76 prisons in North Carolina, 51 already ban tobacco inside prison buildings.

Senate Bill 1130

would extend that ban to all prisons and create a study at one prison where smoking would be banned inside, as well as outside, for inmates, guests and employees.

The bill could eventually lead to an all-out tobacco ban at all North Carolina prisons.

Sen. Charles Albertson, D-Beulaville, who sponsored the bill, said it makes good economic sense.

The state's 36,783 inmates cost taxpayers $145 million in medical bills last year alone.

Because taxpayers also pay the medical benefits for state lawmakers, he agrees that continuing to allow smoking at the Legislative Building creates a double standard.

"I guess you could make that point that it's a double standard," Albertson said. "I'm not in favor of smoking inside the building."

Alberston said, however, that he is not pushing a bill to make that change. Neither is anyone else.

"I certainly wouldn't have a problem if we banned it from these two buildings," Rep. John Sauls, R-Sanford, said.

Lawmakers who smoke did not want to comment on the reasons why smoking is still very acceptable inside the Legislative Building.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said he did not have time. Rep. Daniel McComas, R-Wilmington, said he was not interested. Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Kannapolis, said the issue is too political.

"I don't think it sends a good message, but lawmakers are concerned that tobacco founded this state or made the state economically viable years ago," said Rep. Paul Miller, D-Durham.

Miller, who is not a smoker, thinks a bill to ban smoking at the Legislative Building is possible in the future, but he does not think it would pass anytime soon.

Up until a few years ago, smoking was still allowed on the House and Senate floors during session. Now, it is banned there, but not in other open areas of the Legislative Building and Legislative Office Building.

The state does not keep track of which departments allow tobacco or smoking inside. Each Council of State member and cabinet director decides.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Administration told WRAL that she did not know of any other state buildings that allow smoking inside.

There are concerns about implementing the tobacco ban in prisons. The Department of Corrections supports the overall bill, but is concerned about phasing it into the prison population. An estimated 70 percent of prison inmates are said to be smokers.