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Findings From Scottish Prisons

Study finds high uptake of vaping following smoking ban in Scottish prisons but warns that they are being adulterated in order to take hallucinogenic drugs

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A qualitative interview study with prison staff by a team from the Universities of Stirling, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, has published its findings. The team, that includes Professor Linda Bauld, believe there is little known about the use of ecigs in prisons and even less from the prison officer’s perspective.

They write: “There is very limited evidence on e-cigarette use in prisons, with no studies reporting on the perspectives of staff working in prisons where vaping is permitted among people in custody, thus limiting understandings of its perceived benefits and risks in this distinct setting.”

Current research evidence on e-cigarette use in prisons comes from two studies of tobacco and vaping in Scottish prisons (the Tobacco in Prisons study and the E-cigarettes in Prisons study).

The previous evidence showed that vaping received broad support from all those connected to the prison system, 75% of prison staff and 90% of people in custody.

Favourable perceptions of e-cigarettes in Scottish prisons also reflect broader evidence on their appeal and effectiveness for some current and ex-smokers (eg, those who feel unwilling or unable to quit nicotine) and evidence on reduced harms to users and bystanders from vaping relative to smoking.”

The study was designed to ensure that the views of prison staff could be heard at different stages of the process of implementing smoke-free prisons in Scotland.

The results make for mixed reading.

Staff interviewed for this study voiced strong overall support for the smoke-free prison policy and reported positive impacts of removing tobacco from prisons, including benefits for their own health and comfort while at work.”

The staff felt vaping played a key role in helping prisons achieve smoke-free status.

Several participants expressed doubts about the safety of vaping for themselves as bystanders,” the team found.

Then there is the issue that has prompted poor media coverage - illegal drugs.

Electronic cigarettes have been adulterated by people in custody to accommodate hallucinogenic-soaked paper. Some would argue that the issue here is the availability of the drug and not that vape devices are used to ingest it.

Other issues created by vaping included tensions in the halls and challenging behaviour when someone ran out of e-liquid. Also, the borrowing of an e-cigarette “came at a price” and led to debt. In truth, this previously happened with cigarettes and other products and is not confined to e-cigs.

The team concluded: “This detailed analysis, focused on the challenges associated with vaping in prisons from the perspective of prison staff, identified five main issues: staff concerns about exposures to e-cigarette vapour at work; use of e-cigarettes for illicit drug taking among people in custody; the value attached to, and trading of, e-cigarette products in prisons; and implications for long-term nicotine and tobacco use. Addressing these challenges is likely to require a combination of measures specific to e-cigarettes and broader measures to address (illicit) drug use and promote overall health.”


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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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