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Pressure to ban jail smoking
Health alert: Smoking in WA prisons. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

The State Government is under mounting pressure to ban smoking in jails after WorkSafe ordered the Department of Corrective Services to stop exposing prison staff to cancer-causing passive smoking.

An improvement notice issued on January 24 said the department had until April next year to take action, after numerous complaints from prison officers and other staff about inmates continuing to light up in their cells and enclosed areas.

Smoking is only allowed in designated outdoor areas in WA prisons but WorkSafe says many employees have complained that prisoners continue to smoke in other areas.

WorkSafe has proposed removing cigarettes from prisoners, citing the examples of New Zealand and the Northern Territory, which have total smoking bans in jails.

Complete bans have been flagged for Queensland, Tasmania and NSW.

"This situation exposes emp-loyees to the hazard of environmental tobacco smoke, which is a carcinogen," the notice said.

A Corrective Services spokeswoman said the department had set up a working group to look at ways to reduce smoking in prisons and would formally respond to WorkSafe by the end of April this year.

The department recognised there was an issue with inmates smoking in cells and other enclosed spaces.

"DCS has issued a custodial operations notice to all prison superintendents reiterating the requirement to have in place a range of management strategies to deal with non-compliance," she said.

"This includes a system of warnings, loss of privilege, regression, and other management options up to disciplinary action."

Public health experts have been pushing for a smoking ban in WA jails to protect prisoners and staff.

Australian Council on Smoking and Health president Mike Daube said the WorkSafe order specifically referred to New Zealand and NT as examples to follow.

"This is about good occupational health to protect the health of prison staff and prisoners," Professor Daube said.

Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis did not comment.