Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 28, 2012

Pastor wants tobacco ban lifted in prisons

— CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A West Virginia minister said the state’s correctional facilities could save “hundreds of thousands of dollars” if it legalized the sale of cigarettes.

He claimed prison employees often compromise the ban, well aware that a pack of cigarettes is worth about $75 behind prison walls, while a pound of tobacco translates into $1,000.

With those kind of numbers, especially among new employees, “the temptation becomes very great,” said Mike House, pastor of Ambassador Baptist Church in Elkins, W.Va.

House made his remarks before a state legislative panel.

The illegal practice costs West Virginians when the state must train a new employee, who replaces one that was terminated, he said. Or when prisoners get caught with tobacco products and their terms are extended, he said.

House said he understands the motivation in banning cigarettes and smokeless tobacco from a health standpoint.

But the use of tobacco is “probably not the greatest health issue” of inmates entering prison, he said.

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