Secondhand Smoke Signals from Prison

This Note argues that courts should acknowledge current societal and medical perspectives on second hand smoke (SHS) and afford real protection to prisoners against SHS through injunctive relief. Part I examines evidence that conclusively demonstrates the serious risk of harm posed by SHS to the health of inmates. It reports that inmates’ long-term exposure to SHS increases their risk of contracting lung cancer, heart disease, and other potentially life threatening conditions. Part II argues that, as required by the Helling standard, contemporary society does not tolerate involuntary, long-term exposure to SHS and that prison officials exhibit deliberate indifference by allowing inmates to possess tobacco without effectively addressing the risk of harm that policy creates for other inmates. Additionally, Part II rejects the proposition that a court confronted with an Eighth Amendment violation may fail to act merely because legislative action may eventually cure the constitutional deficiency. Finally, Part III contends that a court is empowered to remedy this Eighth Amendment violation effectively by easing an inmate’s burden of production and by ordering prison officials to adopt increasingly strict smoking restrictions until the inmate no longer faces a serious risk of harm.