Electronic cigarettes have become a popular choice among smokers trying to kick the habit and inmate smokers are no exception. In the Dickson County corrections system, cigarettes are considered contraband, but county officials decided to allow inmates to purchase electronic cigarettes this year to see if they could be helpful cessation tools. It turns out that the first year of offering ecigs has been highly successful and the Sheriff’s Office reported this week that vaping has also offered a heavy profit to the county.
“We make quite a few dollars off of them. You’d be surprised how they use them things up here,” said Don Hall, the county director of Accounts and Budget. “We probably make $75,000 to $80,000 this year alone just on the profit of those cigarettes. It may even go to $100,000 next year.”
The income from ecig sales goes to the general fund, which covers extra expenses and needs for the sheriff’s office, jail system, and EMS services. Auditors reported that officials purchased the prison’s ecigs at a total of $33,015 with the money coming from inmates and not taxpayers. However, some local citizens are bothered by the high cost and believe the prison should reach out for bids.
The sheriff’s department said they did ask for additional bids, but had very little interest. “We only got one vendor to even bid on it,” Hall said. “I’d figure we would have had 10 of those vendors, but we only had one.”
Even with only one participating vendor, the ecig program has been widely accepted by inmates and Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe said that prison officials have been very cognizant of any risks associated with vaping. “I’m not aware of any additional health risks with vapor cigarettes,” Bledsoe said. He also explained how the guards keep ecigs from becoming weapons.
“We looked at the devices inside them and to see if there was anything that could be used for some kind of malicious purposes. Once we figured out they were safe to have and couldn’t be fashioned into a weapon, we put parameters in place that these products have to be returned, with no tampering at all, in order to receive another one.”
So far, the Tennessee prison’s plan seems to be working with inmates faithfully buying ecigs and the county gaining a nice profit from the tobacco-free devices. Perhaps the Dickson County success story will pave the way for more prisons to offer electronic cigarettes in the future.