Friday, January 24, 2014

Rural sheriffs use e-cigarettes to calm inmates, make profit; businesses target rural jails

Sales and use of electronic cigarettes are heating up in rural jails and prisons, but there is some concern that manufacturers are pushing the product on inmates, Timothy Williams reports for The New York Times. "Though traditional cigarettes are prohibited from most prisons and jails because of fire hazards and secondhand smoke, a growing number of sheriffs say they are selling e-cigarettes to inmates to help control the mood swings of those in need of a smoke, as well as address budget shortfalls, which in some jails have meant that guards are earning little more than fast-food workers." (NYT photo by Christopher Berkey: Inmate Logan Smith smokes an e-cigarette)
Gage County, Nebraska, Sheriff Millard Gustafson bought 200 e-cigarettes in December for his 32-prison jail, and soldout almost immediately, Williams reports. Gustafson told him, "They’ve been selling like hot cakes. I look at this as something to control their moods. And so if they’re not a good boy or girl, I’m going to take them away, just like I do with the TVs.”

Sheriff Mark Gammons, of Macon County, Tennessee, has seen a similar interest among prisoners, saying "that at least half of the jail’s 150 inmates were smokers and that many had turned to e-cigarettes."He said selling e-cigarettes has been profitable for a business whose highest paid guards are only making $10.58 an hour, and haven't seen raises in some time, Williams writes. The prison buys each e-cigarette, the equivalent of three to four packs of cigarettes, for $2.75, and sells them to prisoners for $10. That has Gammons hopeful he can profit between $20,000 to $50,000 this year on the sale of e-cigarettes, and use that money for pay raises.

While Gammons says he doesn't encourage e-cigarette smoking among prisoners, distributors make no bones about pitching the product to inmates, Williams writes. "Behind the scenes, e-cigarette distributors have been lobbying local officials at state sheriffs’ association meetings, and dropping by penitentiaries and leaving behind samples."

The market is being targeted. Bill Anderson, owner of Precision Vapor in Lexington, Ky., says on the company's website that it is "a leading designer and manufacturer of electronic cigarettes for the prison systems. We were at the forefront of the introduction of electronic cigarettes to the prisons and continue to expand into all 50 states, with the goal of producing a top quality cigarette that achieves unparalleled success in jail after jail." (Read more)

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