Inmate suit challenges prison smoking ban

An inmate has filed a petition challenging the Nevada Department of Corrections policy prohibiting smoking or any other use of tobacco on prison grounds.

David "Dino" Barnes, 62, charges in the petition that the smoking ban violates state law giving the prison system an exemption from the ban on smoking in public buildings.

Barnes says in his petition that state law also prohibits any governmental agency from enacting "more stringent restrictions" on the sale, use or distribution of tobacco products. That section of law was created by tobacco company lobbyists to prevent cities and counties from enacting tougher anti-smoking laws than the state's statutes.

Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik installed the tobacco ban July 1 - applying it to inmates and correctional staff. He said Nevada is far from the first state to do so.

He also said it makes good sense since both Washoe and Clark county jails already ban tobacco use.

"So most of our new inmates come to us smoke-free," Skolnik said. "It would be irresponsible of us not to offer them the opportunity to stay that way."

He said at the time it also would reduce inmate medical costs to the state in the long run.

Skolnik said there have been some issues since the ban, "but nothing disastrous at this point."

Opponents among the correctional staff had said they were concerned minimal staffing combined with frayed nerves of inmates denied their cigarettes would result in more violence in the institutions.

No action has been taken on the petition, which also seeks a preliminary injunction that would allow inmates to get their tobacco while Carson District Judge Todd Russell makes a decision on the petition.

Barnes is serving a life sentence on a murder conviction out of Washoe County.�


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