Supreme Court: Smoking ban in prisons justified

Tallinn Prison.
Tallinn Prison. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The ban on tobacco products in prison is justified, the Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia found, as the prison's security, the prevention of illicit relationships between prisoners, the prevention of fire hazards as well as the need to protect people's health outweigh the infringement of prisoners' rights imposed by the ban.

An administrative court had previously appealed to the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional a change made by the Ministry of Justice in 2017 to internal prison rules according to which prisoners were banned from possessing smokable tobacco products and items from which and with the help of which smokable tobacco products can be produced or smoked. Reviewing applications submitted by prisoners at Viru Prison, the administrative court found that the relevant change to the prison's internal rules was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court rejected these appeals, however. The Constitutional Review Chamber did not agree with the administrative court's position that the justice minister had with their rule change exceeded the limits of their powers.

The top court noted that while the ban on tobacco products and the related smoking ban do infringe prisoners' constitutional right to property and right to free self-realization, the bans nonetheless do not deny prisoners of any necessities or violate their human dignity.

"The goals of the ban outweigh the infringement on the prisoners' rights," a spokesperson for the Supreme Court said on Tuesday. "While more lenient measures could be weighed in the fight against health risks caused by smoking, it is difficult to assess their efficacy. The Supreme Court does not know of a single specific measure that would more clearly help prevent smoking-related risks in prison than a full ban on tobacco products."

The Constitutional Review Chamber explained that the goal of the tobacco product ban cannot be to protect prisoners who smoke from the harms to health caused by tobacco smoke or to break their nicotine addiction. It is, however, the prison's obligation to protect nonsmoking prisoners from harms to health caused by tobacco smoke.

As the previous limited opportunity for prisoners to use tobacco products often led to situations in which prisoners gained access to tobacco outside of permitted areas, the chamber found that a full tobacco product ban will reduce their illicit release into prison.

The chamber added that the smoking ban would also increase prisoners' fire safety, as well as help reduce tobacco products' use as illicit currency within the prison.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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