Tobacco has been desecrated by its relationship to big corporations. Commercial tobacco has been genetically engineered with genes from arctic fish, fed radioactive fertilizers, and treated with a host of dangerous chemicals including ammonia, which increases tobacco’s addictiveness.
Now the governments of North America are stepping in and making things worse yet? they are on the path of tobacco prohibition. It started in the late 80’s in both public places and in the work place. In the 90’s, jails became the focus of efforts to prohibit tobacco. By 1996, five states had already prohibited tobacco in prisons. After 1996, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri all followed suit. Canada, which typically follows US policy on matters regarding mind-altering substances, is et to begin prohibiting tobacco in British Columbia’s six maximum-security prisons next year.
There are enough parallels between the prohibition of tobacco and the prohibition of marijuana to give goosebumps to even the most ardent cigarette-hating pot smoker. Nazi Germany had rigorous tobacco prohibition, and they associated tobacco use with Jews, Gypsies, gays and other groups targeted for cultural cleansing. Hitler even credited his personal decision to quite smoking with the success of fascism.
As with marijuana, available evidence suggests that prohibition of tobacco will create massive social problems while not affecting demand for the substance. During the time the Nazi’s experimented with tobacco prohibition, smoking rates climbed to an all-time high in Germany. Similarly, in the mid-90’s, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette found that a busy black market for cigarettes had sprang up in Massachusetts jails only one year after tobacco was prohibited. In 1995, the state of Georgia cancelled tobacco prohibition in its jails after only five months, when researchers found that black markets had proliferated, that the price of cigarettes in jail had climbed to 20 dollars a pack, and that tobacco-related violence was suddenly a major trend. Sound familiar?
Pundits of tobacco prohibition cite health concerns as topping the list of reasons why the smoky herb should be made illegal in prisons. In BC, the Worker’s Compensation Board exerted its clout by drafting new regulations that “protect” jail workers from second-hand smoke. In the US, no-smoking prisons have come about due to a combination of legislation by politicians and lawsuits brought by non-smoking inmates. US courts have repeatedly ruled against counter-suits brought by smoking inmates who assert that it is their constitutional right to smoke cigarettes.
Indeed, the question of rights is thorny. While inmates should undoubtedly have the right to smoke, they should also have the right to be free from second-hand smoke should they so choose. Perhaps designated smoking areas are the answer, or separate wings for smoking and non-smoking inmates. The solution is certainly not prohibition, with its long history of failures and human-rights abuses.