The smoking cessation program must be expanded and extended to combat smoking among prisoners

More than half of all incarcerated people in the United States smoke cigarettes, a hidden health crisis that has long been understudied and underfunded.

Pamela Valera, an assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Global Public Health at the Rutgers School of Public Health, is leading efforts to change both.

With colleagues from Rutgers and the University of Southern California, as well as funding from the National Institutes of Health, Valera and her team implemented a smoking cessation program in seven prisons in a northern state. -is. They then measured smoking relapse rates.

What they found was that for prison programs to effectively reduce smoking, at least four weeks of direct intervention are needed, followed by months of group substance addiction counselling. The results are published in the Journal of Correctional Health Care.

Tobacco smoke is an essential part of prison culture because incarcerated people smoke as a means of gaining social support and distracting themselves from emotional distress. Quitting smoking can be very difficult for anyone. It’s doubly difficult for an inmate.”


Pamela Valera, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban and Global Public Health, Rutgers School of Public Health

To determine the optimal length of the program – and to assess how interest, trust, motivation and expectations are associated with smoking abstinence in prison – the researchers recruited 177 male smokers. On average, participants had smoked cigarettes for about 27 years and were moderately or heavily addicted.

Using a group counseling model, inmates were given access to nicotine patches and enrolled in a six-week smoking cessation program.

At the end of each session, participants received an exhaled carbon monoxide (CO) test to determine whether they were continuing to smoke or had abstained. At the end of the course, 54 participants were registered as having quit smoking. The discrepancy in CO levels between those who quit and those who continued began in the fourth week.

Incarcerated smokers generally do not have the appropriate resources to help them quit. Although many prisons are adopting smoke-free policies, nicotine use remains high in many prison facilities, Valera said. For example, in some prisons and penal institutions, the use of electric cigarettes has increased in recent years, as has the black market in tobacco. What that means for those who want to quit is that they have to do it “cold turkey,” Valera said.

Valera said it was essential to get this hidden health crisis under control. “Taxpayers pay for health care for incarcerated people,” she said. “As smokers reach prison age, the cost of their treatment increases. Correctional facilities provide an opportunity to address the high cost of drug addiction and tobacco dependence.”

“My ultimate goal is to bring more attention to this space and for the university community to consider working with and for people in correctional settings,” Valera said.

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