PHOENIX — Banning tobacco products from prisons would save several million dollars a year that Arizona now spends treating inmates for ailments caused by lighting up, a state lawmaker contends.
Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, wants to prohibit state prison inmates from possessing tobacco products and to prevent prisons from selling them. He introduced HB 2004, which has won committee approval and is heading to the House floor.
Savings aside, Konopnicki said his goal is improving the health of prison inmates. He said prison culture, in which cigarettes are used as a form of currency in exchange for goods and services, often leads inmates who haven’t used tobacco to pick up the habit.
“We re-create the problem all over again,” Konopnicki said.
Arizona is projected to spend $87 million on health care for prison inmates during the fiscal year that ends in June. Konopnicki told the House Government Committee, which endorsed the bill unanimously Jan. 20, that banning tobacco would save between $4 million and $5 million a year on treatment related to tobacco use.
Inmates aren’t allowed to smoke in buildings, and prisoners assigned to juvenile, medical and maximum-security units are barred from possessing tobacco. However, inmates in the general population are allowed to have tobacco products and to smoke outside.
Thirty-eight states have comprehensive tobacco bans in their prisons, said Jennifer Bowser, legislative liaison for the Arizona Department of Corrections, which has taken a neutral stance on the bill.
The Department of Corrections offers classes to help inmates break addictions to tobacco and other substances, she said.
The American Heart Association supports the bill because it would be good for inmates’ health, said Tim Vaske, director of government affairs in Arizona.
“It benefits those that currently are smoking … and also it does benefit those who maybe tended to start smoking, or began initiation, when they were around those that do,” Vaske said.
Michael Duran, executive vice president of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, called the bill a good idea, saying he has seen inmates become sickly from extended exposure to and use of tobacco.
“It’s a long-term effect,” he said. “We don’t want to help that process.”
Here are provisions of HB 2004, sponsored by Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford:
— Require the state Department of Corrections to establish a rule prohibiting inmates from possessing tobacco products.
— Forbid the sale of tobacco products in inmate stores.