Mississippi prisons take tobacco orders ahead of February 1 smoking start

Published 1:36 pm Saturday, January 23, 2021

Officials at some Mississippi prisons say they are being inundated with orders for tobacco products as the state prepares to once again allow inmates to smoke.

Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain announced in December that smoking would be legal in Mississippi prisons starting Feb. 1, a decade after the practice was banned.

Cain, who became commissioner last year, said the change would decrease the amount of contraband being smuggled into prisons.

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“By selling the same cigarettes that are allowed to free people, we are breaking the contraband tobacco trade … reducing inmate contraband violations and recouping for taxpayers some of the dollars it takes to run state prisons,” he said in a statement.

Revenue from tobacco sales will go to fund the Department of Corrections’ re-entry program, which teaches parole-eligible men and women the skills needed for trade jobs. Tobacco products are to be sold at market price.

Some public health groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, are opposed to the change.

In a statement to WLBT-TV, the organization’s officials said they are “disappointed” in the decision to legalize tobacco products by the Mississippi Department of Corrections. They called the ban a “lifesaving policy” and said inmates have the right to “breathe clean, smoke-free air.”

Cain said he is sympathetic to anti-smoking groups. However, he said he believes lifting the ban improves the quality of life for non-smokers.

“The state’s smoking ban was meant to protect others from second-hand smoke but in prison, it backfired by forcing inmates to buy and smoke covertly inside,” Cain said.

Cain said under the new plan, prisoners have a designated place outdoors to smoke. Smoking cessation products will be available for those who want to quit.