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Florida bans the sale of tobacco in prisons

Shawal Jamila,19, smokes a cigarette inside the women's prison October 22, 2010 in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.

Steve Chiotakis: More than 100,000 prisoners in Florida are no longer able to light up. Leading up to a ban that started last weekend one of the country's largest prison populations spent six months being weaned off of tobacco.

Reporter Gina Jordan has more from Tallahassee.


Gina Jordan: The ban was ordered by former Corrections Secretary Edwin Buss, who banned tobacco as corrections chief in Indiana in the mid-1990s. Going tobacco-free in the prisons will save the state of Florida a lot of money, according to Gretl Plessinger with the prison system.

Gretl Plessinger: Last calendar year, we spent almost $9 million on hospital bills for inmates with smoking-related illnesses.

For skeptics who predicted an angry uprising of tobacco-addicted inmates, there've been none so far. As soon as the ban was announced, inmates were able to buy nicotine patches and take classes to help them kick the habit. Plessinger says the inmates may just be trading one habit for another.

Plessinger: What we've seen in other states is that when inmates stop smoking, they buy candy instead.

Florida inmates spent $19 million at the prison canteen last year on tobacco products. Of course, that's just a blip in terms of profit for the tobacco companies. Plessinger says none of those companies have called to complain.

In Tallahassee, I'm Gina Jordan for Marketplace.

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