Montreal

Quebec cons must butt out now by law

Quebec inmates are being forced to quit smoking as the province's tough tobacco laws take effect in prisons on Tuesday despite vocal opposition.

Quebec inmates are being forced to quit smoking as the province's tough tobacco laws take effect in prisons on Tuesday despite vocal opposition.

The province is one of the last in Canada to ban smoking in and outside detention centres.

The Health Department says the ban is part of a broad public health initiative to reduce smoky environments — but prison guards and prisoner advocates say the law is too stringent for criminals.

About 80 per cent of Quebec's prison population smokes, and it won't be easy to force them to quit, said Suzanne Gravel, a spokeswoman for Groupe de Défense des droits des détenus de Québec.

Prisons are cramped, high-tension environments and forcing prisoners to endure nicotine withdrawal en masse will likely lead to confrontations, she told CBC News.

Guards are not prepared to enforce the ban starting Tuesday, said Stéphane Lemaire, president of the Syndicat des agents de la paix des Services correctionnels au Québec, the province's prison guard union.

Without any additional resources, "the problem is in applying the law which is a very, very big challenge," he said on the eve of the ban.

Canada's smokers' rights group mychoice.ca says the government-provided nicotine patches will likely be used to barter among prisoners.

Quebec's smoking ban in restaurants and bars came into effect in May 2006.

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