Can You Smoke In a Prison?

It is an unpopular fact that most people going to prison are smokers, and even worse, many are hooked on it and can barely make it past a day without smoking a joint. If you are a smoker going to prison, the big question remains, can you smoke in prison or jail? Currently, each state has its own rules and laws about smoking, but in most correctional facilities, smoking is illegal, and if an inmate is bound to be punished if caught in the act of possession.

Nevertheless, with the ban on tobacco in most facilities across the state, the black market is ever booming; at the end of everything, inmates still smoke in secret. Those that cannot access a smoke on account of strict restrictions can only turn to rehabilitative programs to curb the urge.

Prisons That Allow Smoking

Over the years, prisons and jails across the United States have become smoke-free courtesy of the strict state laws and guidelines of the Department of Corrections and Bureau of Prisons. As of 2019, almost all correctional facilities in the US, except for Arizona, had banned indoor smoking while others have also completely banned tobacco use in their facilities.

However, the bans do not mean that inmates can no longer smoke.  Now that cigarettes are no longer part of their commissary items, inmates still find a way to illegally acquire them through the black market. Inmates access cigarettes by bribing prison staff, through incoming visitors, or during inter-facility transfers.

Some of the state correctional facilities that are strictly smoke-free and tobacco-free indoors and outdoors or anywhere within the facility include: Wyoming, Virginia, Vermont, South Dakota, South Carolina, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada, Nebraska, Missouri, Mississippi, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Kansas, Idaho, Georgia, Colorado, and Arkansas. The state facilities that do not entirely allow smoking on their facilities are Utah and Puerto Rico

There are also facilities that do not allow indoor smoking or possession of tobacco. These include: West Virginia, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Florida, Washington, Montana, Delaware, Texas, Louisiana, California, Lowa, Kentucky, and Alaska.

Correctional facilities that allow zero indoor smoking include:

Alabama, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Arizona, Maine, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Maryland

Are You Allowed to Smoke in a Prison Cell?

Currently, all state correctional facilities have banned indoor smoking. As such, you cannot smoke in your cell if you are incarcerated in any state prison or jail. Consequently, if you are caught smoking in your cell, your privileges will be cut short, and you could even receive a severe punishment. An inmate could lose their visiting privileges, library privileges, or even be locked up in restricted detention in a segregated housing unit.

While tobacco is now considered contraband in prison and it is no longer available as a prison commissary item, inmates have to find a way to illegally acquire some. Those who have access to cigarettes and other tobacco products trade it for other commissaries such as snacks or toiletries.

Nevertheless, inmates still risk just for a puff because it helps them relax and take life easy. Any moment spent feeling good or feeling relaxed is considered worthy of any risk.

Can You Smoke in Federal Prison?

As of 2015, all federal Bureau of Prisons were declared smoking-free unless part of an inmate’s accepted religious activity. Staff members and incoming visitors are also expected to follow strict smoking guidelines in designated outdoor places.

Likes in state facilities, inmates in Bop facilities have also found a way to sneak in tobacco products. However, due to strict security measures, these are not sold in packets but in individual pieces popularly known as pinners.

Pinners are hand-rolled cigarettes made from a pack of papers and a pouch of tobacco. In place of paper, toilet papers or book papers are used to roll the joints. While the pinners are very thin with little tobacco content, their trade is a gold mine that can rake in lots of dollars for the dealers. A single piece could go for as much as $ 5, depending on an individual facility. In some facilities, a single packet of cigarettes can go for up to a whopping $ 200.Consequently, both prison staff members and inmates are willing to risk for the appealing cash-ins.

Another issue that comes with illegal tobacco is lighting. The prison commissaries do not feature lighters or matchboxes hence the need for the inmates to get creative. There are multiple ways through which inmates light up their joints, but the following is one of the most popular: An inmate first acquires two AA batteries and a strip of foil from a Ramen Noodle Soup. After scratching off paint from a piece of metal, usually, their cell windows frame or desk stands, they then proceed to place the two batteries on the exposed metal, one positive and the other negative. When the batteries are all set, the foil is cut in half, and the two pieces are held down on the battery terminals. Joining the two pieces of foil while they are held down on the terminals produces a terminal which an inmate could use to light up their joint.

Can You Vape in Prison?

Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vapes are prohibited in most American and federal correctional facilities. However, like cigarettes, these products can also be accessed in the black market and smuggled into these facilities. Just like in the fight against drugs in the free world where the illegal business is taken up by gangs, in prison, illegal products such as e-cigarettes and vapes are dealt by a syndicate of organized prison gangs. Those with enough money can buy these products from these gangs who are willing to risk the law’s implications for the profit.

Positive Implications of Smoking Bans in Prison

Even in the outside world, smoking is considered hazardous and unhealthy for both those using it and those around the user who might unintentionally inhale the smoke. The ban in American correctional facilities is considerably good for the wellbeing of non-smokers. Moreover, those hooked on it could now seriously consider using the provided rehabilitation programs to stop their addictions. Some of the outright benefits of the ban include the following:

  • The ban is the ideal way to stop cancer in prisons and jails; research has established that half of those who smoke cigarettes die from health complications related to their habits. Moreover, inmates are more likely to die of smoking-related cancers than the general public. Allowing smoking in prisons also threatens the health of non-smoking inmates, staff members, and even incoming visitors. Since the ban took effect, one year later, a significant reduction in smoking-related illnesses was noted in American prisons.
  • The ban favors non-smokers who can now breathe fresh air; it is overly harsh for a non-smoker to share the same cell with a smoker. Their health is not only placed in jeopardy, but also the air quality is not appealing.
  • The ban is an inmate’s first step towards rehabilitation, making it hard or impossible for inmates to smoke while in incarceration is the ideal way to push them to embrace rehabilitation programs such as drug and substance abuse programs.
  • It helps curb smoking-related illnesses; the ban has helped significantly reduce the number of illness cases attached to cigarette smoking.

The Negative Implications of Smoking Ban in Prison

Banning smoking in prisons and jails may come with many appealing benefits, but it also came with a list of unappealing negative implications. These can be viewed in the following perspective:

  • Thriving of the black market; with cigarettes no longer part of the prison commissary items, smokers had to look for a second option to quench their thirst. This paved the way for the establishment and thriving of another illegal black market, which of course, came along with attached vices such as intimidation, standovers between inmates, sex for tobacco, and illegal smuggling. The market is deeply rooted in the system, with inmates, prison staff, and visitors having been caught up in it.
  • There is no guarantee when inmates are released; they will not fall back to their old habits; Banning smoking in correctional facilities may have a health appeal, but it is no guarantee that when an inmate is released back into the society, they will not fall back to smoking.
  • The bans were subject to acts of violence from inmates; when the bans were announced in different facilities across the United States, the news was not embraced joyfully by the smoking inmates. The ban even prompted violent riots in several facilities. Inmates can kill or suffer for the pleasure of smoking a cigarette, and when this privilege was taken away, it was not welcome.
  • It is considered an erosion of human freedom; the ban did not pass well with human rights groups, with many considering it a denial of human freedom.
  • It increased corruption in prisons and jails; with most inmates not willing to give up their smoking habits and willing to risk it all for the priceless puff, corruption crept into the prison system. Inmates bribe the prison staff to have them smuggle some cigarettes into these facilities.
  • Security compromise; the illegal black market brings along many vices, some of which lead to acts of violence between inmates.


It is hard to establish the actual purpose of the smoking ban in American correctional facilities. The claim that it is for the inmates’ health is quite questionable since there is nothing healthy about prison conditions. However, it has reduced the number of smoking-related illnesses in prison, including cancer.