Captive Audience: Bans on Smoking in Prisons Shrink a Coveted Market

Wall Street Journal
27 August 2003

This page is part of the Strength Tech web site's coverage of Correctional Recreation.

On 27 August 2003, the Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy, Page 1 feature article on the banning of smoking in prisons. Much of the article is devoted to its potential financial impact on correctional recreation. It points out how several smoking firms donated athletic equipment to prisons for the right to sell their cigarettes there, plus many prisons use revenue generated by sales of cigarettes to purchase recreation equipment. A small portions of the article is summarized below. If you are interested in viewing the entire article, the Wall Street Journal is available in most major libraries.

Bans on Smoking in Prison Shrink a Coveted Market

Big Tobacco Courted Inmates for Decades, 
Yielding Reliable Funds for Many States
By Vanessa O'Connell
27 August 2003
Pgs. A1 and A6

portions are summarized or quoted below
A commissary manager at Rikers reports New York City banned smoking in prisons in April. He has not yet figured out how to replace thousands of dollars a day in lost cigarette sales.

"A store in a large prison can gross $500,000 a year in tobacco sales, double the average of a typical Wal-Mart".
The director of security for Vermont's DOC reports money from cigarette profits have been used to pay for recreation equipment and crafts instruction.

"The manufacturers of Newport, Kool, Camel and other brands deployed their full arsenal of marketing tools to secure space on prison-commissary shelves: free promotional clothing and sports gear; 2-for-1 deals; and, in some cases, cash "donations" to corrections departments."

In the 1980's and 1990's Lorillard Tobacco ran several prison promotions, including Loews Corp's "Play Ball With Newport" program encouraging inmates to save Newport packs, and the prison could turn them in for weightlifting equipment, basketballs and board games.

From 1990-1997, Lorillard ran the "Great Newport Sneaker Deal," providing a pair of running shoes or high-tops for each batch of 300 to 400 empty packs.

From 1990-1997, Lorillard spent about $1.4 million on the "Play Ball" and sneaker programs. Their cigarettes were sold in more than 575 prisons and jails.

From 1994-1996, Lorillard spent about $24,000 a year on Newport ads on back covers of Prison Life magazine (a no longer published periodical targeted at inmates.

In the 1990's, Philip Morris offered price breaks on some of their brands to inmates held in many institutions. They also provided Virginia Slims playing cards and 2-for-1 deals on its Benson & Hedges cigarettes.

"A November 1995 internal Rikers document noted that the then-18,000-inmate jail rang up annual tobacco sales of $5 million, including a 30% markup by the institution's commissary. Manufacturers offered an impressive tally of inducements to ensure their brands remained in stock. Through the "Play Ball" program, Lorillard annually gave Rikers basketballs, ping-pong paddles and other sporting goods valued at about $25,000. The company and its rivals each year donated logo-emblazoned shirts and socks valued at $20,000, according to the Rikers document.

The bequests included 500 domino sets, 500 chess and checkers games, 500 Scrabble boards, 615 footballs, 1,000 basketballs and 30 basketball nets -- all during one three-month period. Rikers also got Uno games, volleyball nets and pole sets, weightlifting equipment, gym mats and softball gear."

The article goes on to talk about more recent events and the entry of more economical "roll your own" tobacco to the prison market.

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