WASHINGTON – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by an inmate who said a new state prison tobacco ban violates his constitutional right to smoke and that his nicotine addiction is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In a six-page decision Thursday, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin dismissed Eastern Correctional Institute inmate Daniel Brashear’s suit as “frivolous.” With little discussion, Smalkin concluded there is no constitutional right to smoke.
“It should be perfectly obvious to any rational person that the state of Maryland . . . has a legitimate interest in protecting the health of non-smokers forced to be its guests in correctional facilities,” he wrote.
Smalkin also noted that if nicotine addiction were considered a disability under the ADA, more than a quarter of Americans would be disabled under the law.
“Congress could not possibly have intended the absurd result of including smoking within the definition of ‘disability,'” he wrote.
Alice K. Helm, an attorney and co-chairman of the Smoke Free Montgomery Coalition, applauded the decision.
“Everybody knows it’s an addiction, but the court and the legislature already have spoken on this issue,” she said.
Helm said the government has been dragging its feet on banning tobacco in prisons, and it’s about time the policy is implemented.
“This whole thing should have been done five years ago,” Helm said.
The policy banning smoking in all 25 state prisons was announced March 8 by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and is set to take effect May 1.
Smalkin’s ruling means that there is nothing now standing in the way of the tobacco ban, said Dave Towers, a spokesman for the Division of Correction. He said the prisons are taking the “high road” with the ban and that it “makes good sense” to do it now.
The ban was part of a settlement of an earlier case that claimed smoking in prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment against nonsmoking prisoners.
“This (lawsuit) proves, one supposes, that states — no less than individuals — can sometimes be damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” Smalkin wrote, noting the earlier suit to block smoking in prisons.
As of May 1, all tobacco sales will be banned in Maryland prisons. As of July 2, both prisoners and prison employees will be prohibited from having tobacco products on prison grounds.
“On that date, tobacco and tobacco products, matches and lighters, will constitute contraband,” said state Corrections Commissioner William Sondervan in a statement announcing the policy.
At least 30 states have prison tobacco bans, according to the American Correctional Institution.