OBJECTIVE: Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) were introduced into all Scottish prisons in February 2018, some months after prisons began preparing in 2017 for a smoking ban implemented in November 2018. In 2016/2017, prison staff views on the potential benefits and risks of e-cigarettes were explored in advance of the introduction of: (1) a smoking ban and (2) e-cigarettes.
SETTING: Fourteen prisons in Scotland.
PARTICIPANTS: Seventeen focus groups and two paired interviews were conducted with 132 staff in 14 Scottish prisons 4-9 months before plans for a smoking ban were announced in July 2017. Both smoking and non-smoking staff were invited to participate.
RESULTS: Prison staff highlighted three potential risks of e-cigarettes in smoke-free prisons: staff health risks from e-cigarette vapour; prisoner health risks from vaping; and risks to both groups from e-cigarette misuse, defects or accidents. Conversely, potential benefits of e-cigarettes in smoke-free prisons centred on: reducing smoking-related health harms to staff and prisoners; helping prisoners to manage without tobacco; and supporting staff to maintain safety and discipline in prison. Staff who participated in focus groups had limited experience of vaping and expressed some uncertainty and misunderstandings about e-cigarettes.
CONCLUSION: Our findings highlight that scientific uncertainty, misunderstanding about vaping, the complexity of prisons as workplaces and prison tobacco control policy all have implications for staff perceptions of the potential place of e-cigarettes in smoke-free prisons. To alleviate staff concerns, there is a need for reliable information on e-cigarettes. Staff may also require reassurances on whether products are 'tamper proof', and rules about vaping indoors.