HR Strange But True!
April 17, 2008

What if your job description said you must light 50 cigarettes in 15 minutes! No, it's not for a cable challenge show; it's what guards in Hawaii's largest prison must do, according to a TV report.

The story from KHNL-TV, and covered in BLR's OSHA Compliance Advisor newsletter, said that an anonymous employee of the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) in Honolulu, the state's largest prison accommodating almost 1,000 inmates, expressed concern to the local station about workplace exposure to secondhand smoke. The prison was once featured in a New York Times article on the "best places to do time" because of onsite aerobics classes.

Lighters aren't allowed inside prisons for obvious reasons. And lighters are small, so if they are distributed for outdoor cigarette breaks, they are very easy to hide. That's why the guards must do all the lighting--even if it's for 45 to 50 people at a time.

While the guards aren't actually doing any smoking themselves, but just holding a lighter, inmates blow their initial puffs right back in the guard's face during the procedure, says the report.

Also according to the KHNL segment, the informant maintained that guards who refuse to do this part of the job are threatened with disciplinary action, even if they have brought in a doctor's note that they should not be exposed to passive smoke.

Although Hawaii has had a workplace smoking ban since 2006, correctional facilities are exempt. A previous smoking ban tried at OCCC was problematic and rescinded after 5 months. The reason for prison exemptions across the country, according to the website of the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) organization, is because many inmates have mental illness and/or are stopping illegal drug use, so withdrawal from nicotine would be extremely stressful. Also, it has been found that when cigarettes are banned from prisons, a black market in illicit smokes quickly is established, which can result in arguments and fights.

There does seem to be a possible solution. An Australian company has developed a flameless "prison lighter," mounted on a wall or outdoor post, where the cigarette is inserted into a narrow hole to be lighted, a hole too small for other objects or wads of paper.

This would seem to eliminate the need for guards to light up for prisoners. But what do they do about that secondhand smoke from Kilauea ?

Sources: KHNL, Prison Lighter, ASH, New York Times

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