London: Smoking is set to be banned in UK`s prisons amid fears of potential legal action by non-smoking staff and inmates over its harmful health effects.
Smoking was banned in communal areas in British jails in 2007 as part of a national ban on smoking in public places.
But prisoners were allowed to smoke as their cells were defined as "domestic premises" and an estimated 80 per cent of inmates indulge in smoking in Britain`s jails.
Now authorities are considering to ban smoking in all areas of jails in England and Wales, even as campaigners warn it could have a destabilising effect.
The move is linked to potential legal action by staff and inmates who have suffered the effects of passive smoking.
A pilot scheme is expected to begin next year in a number of jails in southwest England, including Eastwood Park Women`s jail, with a full ban likely by 2015, the Times reported today.
"We are considering banning smoking across the prison estate and as part of this are looking at possible sites as early adopters," a Prison Service spokesman said.
The Prison Officers Association (POA) began campaigning for a smoking ban in all UK prisons in 2007. It had expressed concerns about staff and prisoners "forced to suffer the harmful effects of second-hand smoke".
Authorities are worried that officers could bring compensation claims over the effects of passive smoking.
POA general secretary Steve Gillan said the union would work with the Ministry of Justice to make sure a ban "works effectively".
He acknowledged it "could cause disturbances" but pointed out a ban had successfully been introduced in young offender institutions in England and Wales.
Smokers among the 84,000 inmates at prisons in England and Wales, where tobacco is used as currency on the wings, will be offered nicotine patches as a substitute, the report said.