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Quebec to ban smoking fully in provincial prisons by early 2014

A man holds a cigarette.

ILYA NAYMUSHIN/REUTERS

The Quebec government has announced its intention to prohibit smoking outright in provincial prisons within a year – the last Canadian jurisdiction to do so.

The province's public security minister said it's time to try again after the previous Liberal government failed to implement a similar ban five years ago.

The current ban, which applies to inside institutions, will now extend to courtyards as well.

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Stephane Bergeron told a news conference in Quebec City on Friday that he knows the move will create tensions in the prison system.

But Bergeron says it is time to move forward. He says Quebec is currently the last province to allow smoking in courtyards.

The new rules will be introduced in two prisons this June, with the full ban to be in effect by the spring of 2014.

The Liberal government tried to do the same thing in 2008, only to backtrack three days later because of the reaction it provoked.

Corrections officials have complained that a partial ban is difficult to enforce.

Bergeron acknowledges the full ban will result in "added tensions" but says the Parti Québécois government is vowing to go forward. He said measures will also be taken to help inmates quit smoking.

"We weren't scared to make this decision, which conforms with existing legislation and is supported by all interested parties, all the correctional unions," Bergeron said.

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He said one institution in Saguenay, north of Quebec City, is currently experimenting with an outright ban and that the results of the pilot project have so far been positive.

Smoking was banned in federal penitentiaries in January, 2006, with the rules further tightened two years later to prevent smoking outdoors. Inmates briefly won a legal challenge of the rules before it was ultimately overturned on appeal in 2010.

The PQ government says it's introducing the new rules with the health of corrections staff in mind.

"The request also came from many prisoners who found the air to be unbreathable," he said.

A 2010 study by the province's public health authority showed that up to 80 per cent of inmates in Quebec institutions were smokers. And 93 per cent admitted to violating the rules and smoking inside prison walls.

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