He said the decision had not been taken lightly, and after ‘considerable research, debate and scrutiny within the Department’.
The situation will be kept under review and Minister Watterson said he may reconsider the ban if e-cigarettes are properly regulated in the future.
He commented: ‘The overriding consideration is the duty of care owed to prisoners by the Department of Home Affairs. There is a lack of understanding at this time of the medical implications of medium and long term use of e-cigarettes. The body of medical opinion is that these products are still something of a lottery when it comes to their impact on the user.’
A prisoner had written to the Minister to ask him to consider sanctioning the use of e-cigarettes – battery-powered devices that convert liquid nicotine into a vapour that is inhaled by the user.
Prisoners and members of staff have been prevented from smoking tobacco products at the Isle of Man prison since 2009. The Department of Home Affairs introduced the policy to protect non-smokers from the harmful effects of secondary smoke inhalation.
The arrangements were reviewed in response to a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in March 2011. The Department decided to continue the ban, with a renewed focus on robust enforcement and effective smoking cessation support.
Minister Watterson said he had kept an open mind on the possible introduction of e-cigarettes and was aware of their use in other prisons. Guernsey recently followed the Isle of Man’s lead by banning smoking at its Les Nicolles prison, but allows prisoners to purchase e-cigarettes as a tobacco substitute.
The Minister said: ‘While e-cigarettes are available or are being trialled in other prisons, they are currently unregulated and questions remain over their safety. The Department of Health’s Quit4U service has also considered this issue and concluded that it would be wrong to promote the use of e-cigarettes until concerns over long-term health impacts are addressed.’
He added: ‘In light of these considerations, and after lengthy discussions, I have decided to oppose the introduction of e-cigarettes at the Isle of Man prison. However, at some point in the future there is likely to be a greater body of evidence around the use of these products. In the medium to long term, if health and security implications can be addressed I would be prepared to look at this again more favourably.’