CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Tennessee prison officials still see tobacco-related contraband coming into their system regularly, even though prisons were smoke-free as of March.
That's why the Tennessee Department of Corrections is using $10,000 worth of tobacco settlement money to pay the American Lung Association of Tennessee to implement a systemwide smoking cessation program.
"It's the right thing to do for the taxpayers, for quality of life for staff and the inmates," Corrections Commissioner George Little said.
The program will offer classes in behavior modification for inmates and prison staff. Participants will have access to education materials at prison libraries and online.
The program recommends coupling those resources with pharmaceutical assistance, so medicated lozenges will be provided, said Margaret Smith, American Lung Association of Tennessee's director of lung health programs.
The Department of Corrections has not secured funding to continue the program after the initial grant money runs out, but Little said he is committed to finding a way to do so, as it will likely take several years to assess its effect.
The corrections department spends just under $59 million each year on health care for its 19,500 prisoners, or about $4,000 per inmate.
And while it's hard to determine how much of that money goes to toward treating smoking-related health problems, doctors say smokers need almost 50 percent more health care than nonsmokers.
The costs are generated from "the effects of both secondhand smoke and primary smoke ... with regard to asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, vascular disease," said Chattanooga pulmonologist Dr. Vincent Viscomi.
Health problems aside, Little noticed other side effects when visiting one of the last prisons to go smoke-free.
"The walls were dingy. The nicotine had kind of soaked into the ceilings," he said. "If you look at that in the walls, imagine what it can do to the inside of someone's body."