Prison Workers Allegedly Forced to Inhale Secondhand Smoke

Dr. Chiyome Fukino
Dr. Chiyome Fukino

KALIHI (KHNL) -- Hawaii's smoking ban gets tough. Now that the law has passed its one-year mark, the State is moving from educating the community, to more enforcement, such as undercover stings.

But there's a place on Oahu where the smoking ban does not apply. That place is the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC). The state prison is exempt from the ban, and that has critics saying 'no fair'.

Protecting people from secondhand smoke is the intent.

"The Department of Health stands by our goal to improve the health and to maintain the safety of the people of Hawaii," said Dr. Chiyome Fukino, Department of Health Director.

But that safety net from secondhand smoke does not reach those who work at OCCC. That's according to an employee at the state prison, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. He says they are forced to give inmates smoking breaks in the courtyard.

"Typical procedure is the officer lights the cigarettes for 45-50 people, you're taking the initial puff of smoke that they blow back in your face," said the employee.

Some insight into why the smoking ban does not apply at the Oahu Community Correctional Center may lie at Halawa Correctional Facility. In 1993, the prison implemented a smoking ban, but that sparked a black market and caused major security problems. Five months later, inmates were allowed to smoke again.

The OCCC employee says refusing to take inmates on smoke breaks isn't an option. He says his co-worker brought in a doctor's note saying he can't be exposed to secondhand smoke, but was still allegedly threatened with disciplinary action.

"They're telling him, you can be suspended for up to 30 days for not performing your duties," he said.

In a statement the Department of Public Safety says, "We can confirm the Department of Public Safety received a complaint from an OCCC employee. However, we are currently looking into the allegations and determining the merits of the complaint. So at this time, it would be premature to comment any further."