SPRINGFIELD — After years of banning inmates from smoking cigarettes, a second Illinois county has begun allowing jail inmates to use the elec-tronic version while they are stuck behind bars.
Just weeks after White County officials signed a deal with a distributor to provide the nicotine-infused vapor inhalers at the lock-up in Carmi, the Saline County sheriff’s department has joined what could be a growing trend.
Williamson County officials say they’ve been approached about stocking their jail commissary with the product, but haven’t yet decided whether they will participate.
And, Franklin and Wabash counties also are considering making e-cigarettes available.
The push by e-cigarette manufacturers comes as jails in other states have already embraced the sale of the battery-powered vapor inhalers to prisoners as a way to raise money for jail programs and reduce attempts by inmates to smuggle tobacco products into jail.
“I think it’s a trend all counties will eventually adopt,” said White County jail administrator Randy Cobb.
In Saline County, the experiment is in its third week. Jail administrator Brian Bennett said there have not been any problems at the jail in Harrisburg.
“Initially I was against it,” Bennett said. “But I haven’t seen any issues with it so far.”
In Williamson County, sheriff’s department Capt. Gary Tyner said a distributor recently made a pitch to supply e-cigarettes and left some samples behind for em-ployees to use.
“We just haven’t de-cided what to do yet,” Tynor said.
In White County, Cobb said the experiment is going smoothly.
“It definitely slowed our contraband,” Cobb said. “And the morale of in-mates is up.”
The expansion of e-cigarettes into county jails comes just months after anti-smoking groups heralded the signing of a law by Gov. Pat Quinn that bans the sale of the prod-ucts to minors.
The American Lung As-sociation in Illinois said Tuesday it was “deeply troubled” by the use of e-cigarettes as a money-maker for the jails.
“The American Lung Association in Illinois urges county leaders to find an alternate way to support the jail, one that does not jeopardize the health of both inmates and staff,” the organization said in a statement.
For now the trend ap-pears unlikely to spread into the massive state prison system, where smoking also is banned.
Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said the agency has a blanket policy barring the product from being sold at prison commissaries.
“That blanket decision is likely to remain in place,” Shaer said in a statement Tuesday.