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Prisons around the country go 100% smokefree on 1 July, but Kirstin Harrison, nurse team leader at the Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, expects it will be business as usual.
Prisoners are already receiving support to quit. Tobacco has been unavailable in prisons since early June, and as supplies of cigarettes dry up, thousands are taking advantage of the free nicotine replacement therapy available to them. That’s not just the prisoners but the Corrections staff who smoke as well.
Prison nurses are working together with smokefree champions to promote the message that there is support for quitting for prisoners who smoke.
“I’m a reformed smoker and I believe everyone deserves a chance to quit smoking,” says Harrison.
She says reactions amongst the women are mixed.
“Some are reluctant. Some are looking forward to a smokefree environment because it removes the temptation to smoke. For some, quitting is part of taking control of their lives for the better.”
Harrison says there are a number of ways prison nurses are helping prisoners manage withdrawal.
“Nurses are on duty from 6am to 9pm seven days a week and there are also smokefree champions among the custodial staff trained to offer support to anyone kicking the habit. Prisoners are also able to phone the Quitline for help.”
Grace Wong, Senior Lecturer in Nursing at AUT University and Director of Smokefree Nurses Aotearoa/New Zealand, says nicotine replacement therapy is safe and effective. It replaces some of the nicotine in the cigarettes without the harmful tar and other by-products of combustion that cause lung cancer and other diseases.
“Prison nurses are at the cutting edge of health promotion,” says Wong. “Like primary health care nurses in the community they are geared up to help any smoker quit. Everyone who quits helps fulfill the vision of a healthy smokefree New Zealand by 2025.”
Subsidised nicotine replacement therapy is publicly available from nurses and other health professionals.