Smoke free prisons

ACOSH continues to advocate for a comprehensive smoking ban in WA prisons. Looking to the success stories in other states and territories gives us a solid framework to implement a smoke free prisons policy for Western Australia.

There are compelling reasons for WA to adopt and implement a comprehensive smoke free prisons policy. Smoking in prison cells has been banned nationally since 2009, however, more than half a decade on, the issue of smoking in WA prisons continues.

Click on this link to see the Report on the National Summit on Tobacco Smoking in Prisons 2010.

Hurdles to overcome

Smoking in prisons is complex, with one of the biggest issues being the high prevalence of staff who smoke. This further normalises smoking in the prison environment, permits smoking to be used to control prisoner behaviour, and erodes the success of comprehensive policy change. Unless smoking among prison staff is addressed, it is doubtful that a comprehensive smoking ban will be successfully implemented.

The other potent issue in WA correction facilities is the lack of access to, and the cost of, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). WA is the only state or territory to not offer free or subsidised NRT for prisoners. It is unrealistic to expect a population which has particularly high levels of nicotine dependence to stop smoking without pharmacological assistance.


Success stories

New Zealand was the first country to implement a comprehensive smoke free prisons policy, introduced in 2011. In Australia, prisons are already smoke free in five jurisdictions: the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria. South Australia has announced its commitment to implement a smoke-free policy and is taking the necessary steps in preparation for implementation.

The Northern Territory smoke free policy implementation has been a noteworthy success, particularly as it was the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce a complete smoke free policy. The NT experience offers a number of lessons for other jurisdictions, particularly in relation to planning for NRT provision.

In 2004 the former Minister for Health, Jim McGinty, announced a review of smoking in prisons. Mr McGinty commented on this review during parliamentary debate on the Tobacco Products Control Bill. On 8 January 2006 the Minister for Justice (Prisons), John D’Orazio, announced that from August 2007 prisoners would no longer be allowed to smoke in prison cells. On 30 June 2009, cells in all prisons became smoke free.

Best practices – smoke free prisons

ACOSH continues to advocate for the WA Department of Corrective Services to implement an evidence-based, comprehensive smoke free policy. Our recommendations are based on a review of successful implementation experiences, outlined below.

New Zealand

The New Zealand experience is especially valuable as it was the first country to implement a comprehensive country-level smoke free policy for all staff, prisoners and visitors, indoors and outdoors.

After almost five years of the New Zealand smoke free policy implementation (1 July 2011), the following was documented:

  • Preparation for the smoke free policy consisted of a year-long period.
  • Six voluntary smoke free units were established across the country up to nine months before the policy was enforced.
  • Tobacco sales were banned in prisons a month before the full smoke free prison policy came into effect.
  • Smoking cessation services to inmates consisted of both pharmacological and behavioural support, including NRT, access to the national Quitline, access to cessation guidance books and assistance from trained health care staff.
  • Extra activities were provided as part of the smoking cessation program including sporting, exercise, cultural and art activities.
  • Studies of indoor air quality in prisons before and after smoke free policies were conducted to measure nicotine concentrations in ambient air.

For more information on the progress of smoke free prisons in NZ read the following article published in the NZ Journal: ‘New Zealand’s smoke free prison policy appears to be working well: one year on’.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory was the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce a complete smoke free policy, with considerable reported success, particularly in relation to a transition phase to smooth the implementation of the policy. The strategy included:

  • A high degree of support was provided from head office. This included regular meetings with custodial and operational staff to identify and resolve issues prior to implementation.
  • Initial communication to inform prisoners and staff of the planned policy and proposed date.
  • Installation of Quitline on the prisoner free telephone service and unmonitored access to the service within correctional facilities.
  • Providing Quit training to selected staff.
  • Providing free nicotine replacement therapy patches to prisoners and staff who were interested in quitting. Screening for tobacco dependence and distribution of patches were tightened; as a result, misuse was largely eliminated.
  • Amended policies and directives and establish a communication strategy to staff, endorsed by the corrective services authorities.
  • Strongly communicating the position that the policy is enforceable, not aspirational.
  • Increasing healthy food options and additional sport and recreation activities in the first six months of the policy.

All aspects of the policy preparation and implementation had an appropriate budget allocation and resourcing. This was important to demonstrate the commitment to the policy and ensure that adequate training and other support was able to be provided.


Following a collaborative planning process led by Queensland Corrective Services, smoke free prison implementation commenced in Queensland on 5 May 2014, impacting on prisoners, custodial and health staff.

Queensland was the second jurisdiction in Australia to take this very significant public health step. After a year of the policy’s implementation, some of the key learnings and recommendations include:

  • Consistent communication and engagement with both prisoners and staff.
  • There is no “one size fits all” approach to smoke free prison implementation.
  • The post implementation period needs to be incorporated into planning and strategy development.
  • Planning for smoke free prison implementation requires adequate human and financial resourcing.
  • Preventing staff from smoking at work may not lead to them quitting.
  • Anticipate prisoner misuse of NRT and proactively plan to prevent it.

What you can do

ACOSH continues to monitor the other states/territories implementation, and continues to work to address the extremely high prevalence of smoking in WA prisons.

For more information on the level of tobacco use among this high priority population group please visit ACOSH’s ‘Priority Groups – Smoking in prisons’ section of this website.

If you work in a WA prison and would like help with addressing smoking at your facility please contact ACOSH on or (08) 6365 5436.