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Australian prisoners are far more likely to smoke than the general population and find it difficult to quit in prison, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Smoking and quitting smoking among prisoners 2012, shows that 84% of prison entrants were current smokers in 2012-5 times the rate of the general population.

'The decline in smoking rates among the general population seen in the last 20 years has not been mirrored among prisoner populations,' said AIHW spokesperson Tim Beard.

'Among prisoners we also see a concentration of characteristics that are more common among people who are likely to smoke. For example, over a quarter identify as Indigenous Australians. They also tend to come from areas of low socio economic status; have relatively high unemployment rates; and report relatively low levels of education compared to the general population.'

The report shows that 5% of prison dischargees (that is, prisoners who were preparing to be discharged within the four week period following the data collection) who were non-smokers on entry to prison started smoking while in prison.

A further 42% of prison dischargees who were current smokers reported smoking more when leaving prison than when they entered.

Mr Beard said 46% of prison entrants who were current smokers said they would like to quit.

'But it's plainly not easy, with just 1 in 12 prison dischargees being successful in quitting smoking, while a further 27% tried to quit but were unsuccessful.'

When asked what assistance, if any, prisoners would like to help them quit, 35% said none, 30% said nicotine replacement therapy and 21% said programs to help quit smoking.

All jurisdictions in Australia have at least some restrictions on smoking in prisons, and in July 2013 a complete ban on smoking for prisoners, staff and visitors was introduced into prisons in the Northern Territory.

'Smoking among prisoners is associated with other risky behaviours,' Mr Beard said.

'For instance, 75% of prisoners who smoked had used illicit drugs in the 12 months before they entered prison, compared with only 29% for prisoners who had never smoked.

'And 51% of ex-smokers and 48% of current smokers were at risk of alcohol-related harm before entering prison, compared with 27% for those who had never smoked.'

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 22 October 2013

Further information: Tim Beard, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1270, mob. 0418 271 395

Full publication: Smoking and quitting smoking among prisoners 2012