A new bill was introduced in Raleigh, N.C. that would allow jails throughout the state to sell e-cigarettes to inmates. The only step remaining is for Governor Pat McCrory to sign the bill into law. There are currently a number of jails across the state that permits inmates to purchase e-cigarettes. This cuts down on the risk of fire and the risk of secondhand smoke to other inmates.

Smoking was banned in North Carolina jails in March 2010. While this would seem like a good move, it actually did more harm than good. According to jail employees, banning cigarettes made it more difficult to handle inmates that were struggling with nicotine withdrawal—since it made them more stressed and irritable. By allowing inmates to use e-cigarettes, they could eliminate secondhand smoke, but still allow inmates access to nicotine.

According to the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, seventy-five to 80 percent of inmates smoke when they are incarcerated.

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Since all state prisons are tobacco-free, some people wonder why a bill allowing inmates access to nicotine was passed. Some, like Pam Seamans, Director of the North Carolina Alliance for Health, believe that having no access to nicotine will help inmates break their addiction.

To many, the bill seems strange if you think inmates should focus on beating their addiction to nicotine during their sentence. However, an inmate kicking their nicotine addiction is not worth it when nicotine withdrawal causes inmates to be difficult to handle.

Regardless of any questions or concerns, the bill sits ready to be passed. This, however, does raise an issue. Technically giving or selling an e-cigarette to an inmate is still considered a misdemeanor. Inmates would have to purchase specially made plastic e-cigs from their prison’s commissary. Plastic e-cigarettes would be required because any metal e-cigarette could be filed down into a weapon.

In order to supply prison commissaries, a subsidiary company of Reynolds American will begin manufacturing a new type of plastic disposable e-cigarette. It would be safe to say that if the law in North Carolina provides successful, it could be possible for other states to adopt similar policies. Furthermore, if more jails begin allowing e-cigarette usage among inmates, other manufacturers will come on board and begin making their own brands available.

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