The idiocy of prison smoking bans – report from the Isle of Man

A guest post by Stuart Hartill: Filming has finished for a TV series (as yet un-named) about life in the Isle of Man prison, due to be screened later this year.

It’s the latest PR stunt for a jail which in 2008 proudly announced itself as the first smoke-free prison in Europe. But despite numerous uncritical UK press articles at the time, that wasn’t strictly true.

This became obvious in 2011, when a long overdue HM Inspectorate of Prisons visit finally happened.

In one press report, for example, Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons said:

Many prisoners appeared to be intensively and creatively engaged in circumventing the smoking ban. They boiled up nicotine patches, soaked fruit peel or other substances in it and then rolled cigarettes from the resulting ‘tobacco’ in pages from dictionaries and bibles held together with toothpaste. Lights were obtained from kettle elements and electrical wiring. We saw this happening in full view of staff and were satisfied it was a wide spread and long-standing occurrence.

Those ‘other substances’, by the way, included lint dryer and pubic hair. Hardwick’s advice (effectively that banning smoking in prisons was dumb and the UK shouldn’t follow) was ignored, on the island and elsewhere.

In March 2017 IOM Prison proudly announced their next initiative: a six-month project to wean smokers onto a special E-cig designed for prison use.

Unsurprisingly, the island’s public health team supported the move. Health psychologist and tobacco lead Anita Imberger is quoted in one report saying: “…despite support being available some people just don’t want to give up.”

How inconsiderate of them.

The prison’s Independent Monitoring Board also approved, though as it is not independent and has never really monitored don’t read much into that either. A few years ago, I was rejected as the only applicant for an IMB vacancy, after mentioning my membership of Liberty and Amnesty International.

So, look out for the series, but do watch with an open mind.

Stuart Hartill has been campaigning on Manx human rights issues since the 1980’s, well before it was either wise or fashionable to raise some of them.