ATLANTA - Beginning next year, patients at Georgia's mental hospitals and inmates in the state's prisons will no longer be able to light up.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a plan to ban smoking at the seven hospitals is set to take effect Jan. 5, while the ban in prisons will be phased in during the next year.
The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities said the move is designed to make the patients and facilities healthier. But some mental health experts say it's not a good idea to take away a coping mechanism from a person already in emotional distress.
National statistics show that some 75 percent of people with mental illness or addictions smoke. Tom Wilson, spokesman for the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, said people with serious mental illness tend to die 25 years younger than the general public in part because of their smoking.
The Department of Corrections ban aims to save taxpayers money in inmate health costs and will protect other inmates from secondhand smoke, Commissioner Brian Owens told the newspaper.
Beginning Jan. 1, smoking and tobacco use will be banned at two diagnostic centers where inmates are evaluated when they are moved from county jails to state prisons. The Augusta State Medical Prison, which houses the sickest inmates, will follow suit July 1. And tobacco products will be banned in all state prisons starting Dec. 1, 2010.
The department plans to offer quitting aids to interested inmates.