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Calif. Ban on Tobacco in Prison Begins

Randel Davis fidgeted in his prison blues, savoring one of his final hand-rolled cigarettes for some time before a ban on tobacco in California (search) prisons kicked in Friday.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Davis, 44, who is serving the last six months of a five-year stretch for a drug conviction. "I'm going to start eating grass."

Many state prison agencies around the country have full or partial bans on inmate tobacco use, but officials with corrections, health and legislative organizations say California is one of only a few to pass a near prohibition into law.

Many states' policies apply only to inmates, but California's extends to employees when they are inside prison walls. California's law also covers all tobacco (search) products, while some states permit chewing tobacco and snuff.

Davis was up to about 30 smokes a day, rolling about 300 skinny cigarettes from cans of tobacco he bought each month from the prison canteen until tobacco sales ended a month ago in anticipation of the new law.

He's among those who say tensions will rise, contraband tobacco will be worth its weight in gold and prisoners and employees alike will be jittery as they try to quit cold turkey.

Department of Corrections officials say they offered smoking-cessation programs and literature to inmates and staff, but Davis and other inmates in California State Prison (search), Sacramento said they have not seen them.

"What's going to happen when they remove this pacifier from a highly charged, stressful atmosphere?" asked James Donegan, 45, of Los Angeles, who completes a five-year term in September. "You're going to be finding other ways for people to vent their anxiety. There's going to be a lot more fights, a lot more riots."

But many California prisons have banned tobacco for years.

Former Gov. Pete Wilson ended smoking in the state's 11 reception centers for new inmates in 1998, and a third of the state's 33 prisons have outlawed inmate tobacco use in whole or in part.

Officials at prisons where the ban has been in effect have reported a drop in respiratory ailments and asthma-related complaints.

Department of Corrections spokesman Todd Slosek said extending the ban to all prisons "will improve the work environment and potentially drop health care costs."