Mid-state jail turns to electronic cigarettes to raise money - WSMV Channel 4

Mid-state jail turns to electronic cigarettes to raise money

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LAFAYETTE, TN (WSMV) -

There's a controversial new idea to raise money to fund local jails. At least one other Tennessee jail is already doing it. Come Tuesday, the Macon County sheriff plans to also start selling electronic cigarettes to inmates who crave a smoke.

But some question if it feeds a bigger problem of addiction.

Sheriff Mark Gammons said they plan to be made especially for jail use, so they don't have any sharp edges. Unlike other electronic cigarettes, the ones for the jail can't be recharged. Instead, he said after about 500 puffs, inmates have to buy another. The price tag will be about $13.50 for one.

"Hope I can make $45,000 a year and that profit will be turned in to help pay these guards for being understaffed, underpaid," Gammons said.

It's not just about money. Gammons said one of the hottest items inmates try sneak into the jail is cigarettes. But with the electronic cigarettes program, they can control which inmates get to buy them and when they get their nicotine hit.

"This way anybody that does smoke they have the freedom to buy this," Gammons said. "It will allow them to have some form of cigarette while they are in jail."

But Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, said feeding an addiction doesn't help public health and safety in the long term.

"I think the fact remains prisoners with other addictions, such as alcohol addiction, the jail is not providing with beer and whiskey," Friedman said. "Prisoners with substance abuse addiction, such as Oxycodone, the jail is not providing them with that."

The American Lung Association in Tennessee also has concerns, along with other health organizations. In a statement, the American Lung Association in Tennessee said in part, "Much is unknown about the impact of e-cigarette use, including the harm to both the user and those exposed to the secondhand vapor."

But for those inside of the jail cell, the chance to buy an electronic cigarette is a welcome change.

"It help us not to bring more contraband into the jail system," Macon County Jail inmate Jorge Benavente said. "It satisfies the sights of the inmates in the back."

Gammons said inmates will only be allowed to use the electronic cigarette in certain areas.

Putnam County already has a similar program in place. Some jails in Kentucky also allow electronic cigarettes as well. But currently state prisons do not allow any tobacco or substitutes.

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