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Proposal would ban smoking in prison

Not even tough-on-crime lawmakers want to make prison inmates quit smoking cold turkey.

A new bill that would outlaw the use of any tobacco products in Florida prisons will give Department of Corrections officials a two-year window to wean hooked felons from their addictive pleasures.

About 62 percent of the department's 64,300 inmates light up, according to a recent survey. Department officials said the time was needed to make sure corrections officers aren't hurt by inmates craving nicotine.

"It would be quite a problem if they stopped cold turkey. It's kind of a management nightmare," said Laura Levings, a department spokeswoman.

A Senate crime committee unanimously approved the bill Tuesday. Bill sponsor Sen. Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, said the measure would clean up prisons and reduce health care costs to the state for treating prisoners with tobacco-related illnesses.

At least 55 of 67 Florida county jails already ban smoking. About 13 prison systems either have a ban or are in the process of adopting one.

Department of Corrections officials said the bill would result in the loss of some $1.9-million annually in profits from tobacco product sales at state prisons.

They also worried initially that the bill would force inmates to stop immediately, resulting in more fights. But Levings said the 1999 deadline would allow prisons to institute anti-smoking programs.

Al Shopp, who represents corrections officers for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, said a majority of corrections officers approve of the ban on smoking.

Shopp said officers expected problems initially with contraband cigarettes and jittery nerves. But those problems would disappear over time, he predicted.

"You'll have your problems no matter what," Shopp said. "This is not day care."