The Department of Home Affairs is proposing to permit the use of a specialist e-cigarette at the Isle of Man Prison as part of a six-month pilot project.
The move is aimed at reducing the risks and harm being caused by prisoners using illicit smoking materials. As well as protecting staff from toxic second-hand smoke, it would achieve savings of £15,000 a year on the cost of supplying nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) patches.
The Department will seek Tynwald support next week for the Custody (Amendment) Rules 2017, which include a measure to allow the use of disposable e-cigarettes on a trial basis at the discretion of the Prison Governor.
Home Affairs Minister Bill Malarkey MHK says he is recommending the change in policy as a result of updated evidence and medical opinion.
Latest reports estimate that using e-cigarettes is around 95% safer than smoking tobacco, while the risk of vapours to bystanders is considered ‘negligible.’
Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians have recently released reports advocating the use of e-cigarettes for specific groups as an alternative to smoking. In addition, the Isle of Man Public Health Directorate has said it supports piloting the use of e-cigarettes at the prison as a ‘practical harm reduction approach.’
The Minister said: ‘I have been persuaded to revisit this issue by the weight of evidence provided by medical professionals and the availability of an e-cigarette that is specially designed for use in prisons. We will review the effectiveness of the trial after six months and make a decision on whether or not to continue.’
He added: ‘This change in policy should not be interpreted as a failure of the prison smoking ban or the Department going soft on prisoners. In fact, this approach will strengthen our management of the situation, save money and help to improve health, safety and discipline at the prison.’
The Isle of Man Prison led the UK and Europe in becoming smoke-free in March 2008 in a bid to protect staff and prisoners from second-hand smoke.
Prisoners who smoke are currently provided with NRT products for a specified period to assist with the management of nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
The prison healthcare team will continue to run specialist stop smoking clinics, offering medication and behavioural support.
However, NRT patches, which are being misused by some prisoners, will be withdrawn when the pilot project comes into effect.
Prisoners who cannot or do not wish to quit smoking will be permitted to purchase a disposable E-Burn electronic cigarette for use within the confines of their cell or outside. The E-Burn product has been developed by a former prison officer for safe operation in facilities such as prisons and mental health secure units. It has been trialled in Guernsey Prison and other secure facilities in the UK.
Bob McColm, Head of the Prison and Probation Service, said: ‘Offenders are four times more likely to be smokers than those in the general population. Experience at Jurby has shown that many prisoners have no desire to quit and are prepared to flout prison regulations and to risk their health by misusing nicotine patches to produce potentially toxic smoking materials. Prisoners who break the rules are reported and dealt with, but the problem persists.’
He added: ‘The introduction of a secure e-cigarette in the prison is a harm reduction measure developed in partnership with our colleagues in Public Health. We believe this pilot project will generate many benefits. Prisoners will have to actively engage in the rehabilitation process and work in order to pay for their e-cigarettes. This supports our efforts to break the offending cycle and keep the Isle of Man a safe place to live, work and visit.’
Details of the implementation plan for the pilot project are currently being finalised.
Anita Imberger, Health Psychologist and Tobacco Lead at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: ‘Encouraging people to stop smoking remains a significant health priority. It is clear that the prison smoking ban has introduced new risks and staff and prisoners are still being exposed to harmful second-hand smoke. E-cigarettes could help to reduce dangerous smoking practices at the prison and enable prison healthcare professionals to focus on helping those who do wish to quit.’