As city governments and schools across the country move to ban or restrict the use of electronic cigarettes, one place increasingly welcomes the devices: the rural county jail.
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.The trend stands in contrast to restrictions on e-cigarettes approved in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and other big cities. County jails in at least seven states have permitted the sale of a limited selection of flavors of e-cigarettes to inmates. They have quickly become one of the most sought-after items in jail commissaries. And although federal prisons ban e-cigarettes, the inmate market has so much potential that Chinese and American manufacturers now produce “jail-safe” versions made of plastic instead of metal.
Despite the unanswered questions, the use of e-cigarettes has increased significantly in the past three years. There are now more than 350 varieties and global sales have reached nearly $2 billion, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, an industry group.uction in violence and tension in jails, which are often overcrowded and where minor disagreements can quickly escalate into fights, endangering the safety of guards.“When these guys get in here they’re wound up anyway, and then you tell them they’re not getting cigarettes, and it’s on,” said Jason Armstrong, who runs inmate accounts at the Greene County Detention Center in eastern Tennessee, which began selling e-cigarettes in September. “Now, they’re pretty much getting their nicotine fix, so it’s cut down on altercations.”