Researchers analyzed data from U.S. state prisons and found rates of smoking-related deaths among inmates were 9 percent lower in prisons with smoking bans, and 11 percent lower in prisons where smoking bans had been in place for more than nine years.
Inmates in prisons with smoking bans were 19 percent less likely to die of cancer and 34 percent less likely to die of lung disease than those in prisons with no smoking bans, according to the study published online Aug. 5 in the BMJ.
"These findings suggest that smoking bans have health benefits for people in prison, although bans impose limits on individual autonomy and many people resume smoking after release," the researchers wrote.
The investigators called for more research and increased use of programs "to promote effective long-term cessation in prisons and after release as part of a comprehensive tobacco strategy for this high-risk group."
Study author Ingrid Binswanger, an associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and colleagues noted that 50 percent to 83 percent of prison inmates smoke, a much higher rate than is seen in the general population.
The most common causes of smoking-related deaths among inmates are lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease, the study authors added.
The number of states with prison smoking bans rose from 25 in 2001 to 48 in 2011, according to a journal news release. Among those in prison, death rates from smoking-related causes dropped from 129 per 100,000 inmates in years prior to a ban to 110 per 100,000 inmates during years with a smoking ban.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about smoking.