Smoking to be banned in eight prisons across England and Wales from January next year despite fears of unrest behind bars.
Inmates will not be able to buy or use tobacco in the jails from January, while those in open prisons will be barred from lighting up indoors from next month. Prisoners will be given access to e-cigarettes to help them give up the habit.
Andrew Selous, prisons minister and chairman of the Justice Select Committee said, "Since the introduction of smoking legislation in 2007, our desire has been to move towards smoke-free prisons but, given the high prevalence of smoking and the unique environment of prisons, you will appreciate that implementing smoke-free prisons is a difficult thing to do."
The Ministry of Justice announced the ban as the first stage of a national roll-out, and issued the findings of a scientific report showing prison officers were being exposed to "significant" amounts of second-hand smoke while on duty.
"We have no plans to move to smoke free prisons overnight and will only do so in a phased way that takes into account operational resilience and readiness of each prison. The operational safety and security of our prisons will always be our top priority," said Andrew Selous.
From January HMPs Cardiff, Parc, Swansea and Usk/Prescoed will be smoke-free, and HMPs Exeter, Channings Wood, Dartmoor and Erlestoke will follow suit in March.
An independent report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice found prison officers spent on average one hour in six per shift exposed to secondary smoke above guidance levels. The officers' exposure to smoke was "at times significant" - for example, in Cardiff prison staff were exposed to levels of secondary smoke for more than three quarters of their shift.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH, said, "In light of the high levels of tobacco smoke in prisons, we are pleased that prisons in England and Wales will finally be going smoke-free, something ASH has been calling for since 2005. However, the plan only covers England and Wales, and we urge prison authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland to follow suit."