Jail Inmates Must Quit Cold Turkey

When Paul Silvas, also knows as Paul Silks, began serving time in the County Jail in Vista for auto theft, he didn't realize his sentence carried an unforeseen penalty. He would not be allowed to smoke for the duration of his incarceration.

It wasn't a court order or a form of jailhouse punishment that abruptly nipped Silvas' pack-a-day cigarette habit. When Silvas entered the Vista jail, he had stepped into a smoke-free zone.

Like a growing number of establishments in North County, the Vista Jail forbids cigarette, pipe and cigar smoking anywhere on its premises. Inmates and employees alike have to make other arrangements if they want to light up.

"This has been in effect since August of 1989, when the jail opened, and we haven't had any problems," said Lt. E.J. Lubic, a spokesman for the jail. "There aren't many smokers among the staff, and there have been only a dozen or so instances when we have found cigarettes secreted outside the facility in an attempt to get them inside the facility."

Lubic said that, if an inmate is caught smuggling cigarettes, a privilege--such as watching television--is suspended. Employees who smoke have to go outside the jail during their normal break time.

Silvas said the nonsmoking policy causes friction among the inmates. That tension is increased because inmates have to quit cold turkey.

"I think it causes more tension in the jails, and a lot more fights when you have nothing to help you relax," Silvas said. "They take away the only little bit of freedom you have. They have Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups here, but they don't do nothing to help us quit smoking."

Silvas said some inmates desperate for a smoke will sneak lettuce and spinach from the kitchen. They dry it out, roll it up and smoke it.

"That will get you 10 days lockdown with no television, no nothing," he said. Still, there is no denying that smoking is a mighty addiction not easily swayed.

"I might quit, after all I've been off cigarettes for almost a year," Silvas said. "But I like to smoke, it helps me relax."

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