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Indoor air quality in prisons before and after implementation of a smoking ban law


Objective: To ascertain whether a new indoor smoking ban law in North Carolina correctional facilities was successfully implemented and whether the indoor air quality has improved as a result.

Method: Before the law came into effect, we tested the air quality of 22 dormitory and common areas within six North Carolina prisons using standard protocols for testing particulate matter. We measured particulate matter 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) using state of the art TSI SidePak monitors. After the law went into effect, the same locations within each prison were tested again. Written inmate surveys were also conducted at two prisons, one with partial smoking ban (indoors only) and one with a total smoking ban (indoors and outdoors).

Results: The findings indicate that, on average, levels of respirable suspended particulates (RSPs), an accepted marker for secondhand smoke (SHS) levels, decreased 77% in these prisons after the law took effect compared to levels obtained before ban implementation. Several areas were tobacco-free before the implementation of this ban. In those areas no significant decreases in RSPs were noted.

Conclusion: Laws banning tobacco use in correctional facilities can significantly reduce indoor SHS exposure among inmates, visitors and staff and potentially lead to reduced use. To date, 24 US states have enacted 100% smoke-free correctional facility polices for all indoor areas even though inmates and staff have much higher tobacco use prevalence rates than the general population. With an estimated nine million people incarcerated worldwide, prison smoking bans could have a substantial impact in terms of health outcomes and long-term costs if they can effectively reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.

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