Nevada State Prison system goes tobacco free July 1 |

Nevada State Prison system goes tobacco free July 1

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal file photo

There will be a different air about the Nevada State Prison system July 1.

On that date, the entire system will become tobacco free.

Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik said the ban will apply not only to inmates but his staff as well. He said not even the administrative grounds at Stewart are exempt from the ban.

“We informed the inmates and staff a year ago,” he said. “We’re not the first to do this. I have not spoken to any department that has had any serious problems.”

Skolnik said the problems at other prison systems have been greater for the staff than the inmates.

“They still have ready access. All they have to do is stop at a 7-Eleven,” he said. “But the inmates will be very lucky to get a very expensive cigarette.”

Skolnik said for new inmates, it will be easier since most of them are already off cigarettes.

“The vast majority of our inmates come to us tobacco free because both Clark and Washoe county ban smoking products,” he said. “So what we’re doing is re-addicting them.”

Skolnik said things have changed dramatically over the years. He pointed out that when he started in corrections in Illinois, the prison system made cigarettes as one of its industries.

“There were cigarettes everywhere,” he said.

Kevin Ranft, a department employee and a representative of AFSCME, the union that represents many prison workers, said he has some concerns.

“Safety and security is our main concern,” Ranft said. “You have inmates having nicotine withdrawals and officers who are going to have nicotine withdrawal. Then it’s done at the start of summer. I think we’re going to have some incidents occu.”

Skolnik said he thinks there will be a “rocky period” when the ban begins.

“But in the long run, it will be worth it.”

He said prison stores stopped selling tobacco products in April “so that people could kind of wean themselves.”

He said, however, the new rules are going to be enforced: “Effective July 1, the possession of any tobacco product will be contraband in our system.”

“It will probably be like with the cell phones,” he said, noting that many employees forgot to leave their cell phones in the car when they went to work when that rule took effect.

“There’s going to be a learning curve.

“I’m hoping for a lot of our staff, this may be the nudge that helps them kick the habit,” Skolnik said.

He and Ranft, himself a non-smoker, both said the long-term health benefits are a positive of the change. Skolnik said that will, over time, save the state money in inmate medical costs as well as the state benefits program money in employee medical costs.

“I have not heard any outcries at this point from anyone,” he said.

Ranft said his other concern is that, since cigarettes and other tobacco products are legal on the outside, some officers may get in trouble bringing them in to sell to inmates.

“We’re worried as a union we may be seeing some officers being compromised bringing tobacco in,” he said. “We’re going to put it right out there that it’s not worth your livelihood by losing your job over something so stupid.”