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Smoking Bans Reduced Inmates’ Death Rates

Update Date: Aug 06, 2014 09:34 AM EDT

Anti-smoking laws and regulations have helped reduce the smoking rates in several countries. In a new study, researchers examined the effectiveness of enforcing smoking bans in prisons. They discovered that when prisoners were not allowed to smoke, their overall death rate tied to smoking related diseases, such as heart disease and cancer fell.

In this study, the researchers surveyed prisoners from state correctional facilities. The surveys collected data on prison smoking policies and deaths. The researchers focused on calculating years of life lost due to smoking as well as the effects of smoking bans on the mortality rate.

According to the researchers, at the end of 2011, there were 1.4 million prisoners incarcerated in state facilities. Roughly 50 to 83 percent of these prisoners smoke. Based on the surveys' answers, smoking was tied to a death rate of 360 per 100,000 people. It was also tied to 5,159 years of potential life lost due to smoking per 100,000 years. The U.S. rates for these two factors are 248 and 3,501 per 100,000 respectively.

From 2001 to 2011, the number of states that enforced smoking bans in their correctional facilities increased from 25 to 48. The death rate tied to smoking for prisoners prior to these bans was 129 per 100,000. After the bans, the rate fell to 110 per 100,000.

The researchers calculated that short-term smoking bans led to a nine percent drop in death rates. Long-term smoking bans led to even larger reductions. These bans cut the death rate by up to 11 percent, the cancer death rate by up to 19 percent and the pulmonary death rate by up to 34 percent when compared to prisons that did not have any bans enforced at all. The most common causes of smoking-related deaths were lung cancer, chronic lung disease, heart disease and stroke.

"These findings suggest that smoking bans have health benefits for people in prison, although bans impose limits on individual autonomy and many people resume smoking after release," the researchers concluded according to the press release.

The study, "Prison tobacco control policies and deaths from smoking in United States prisons," was published in the BMJ.

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