Addiction to nicotine not protected, judge rules

Smoking ban violates his rights, Md. inmate says

April 17, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A federal judge has struck down as "frivolous" a Maryland inmate's claim that a new smoking ban in state prisons would violate his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act because he is addicted to nicotine.

In dismissing the lawsuit filed by Eastern Correctional Institute inmate Daniel Brashear, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin said in an order filed Friday that Congress "could not possibly have intended the absurd result of including smoking within the definition of disability."

If it had, up to 30 percent of Americans could be considered disabled, Smalkin said.

Under the ban announced last month, tobacco, lighters and matches will be barred at Maryland's 25 prison facilities. About 23,000 state inmates, their visitors and 8,000 correction officials will be prohibited from smoking under the new rules beginning June 30.

The ban partially settled a separate federal lawsuit brought by former and current inmates seeking smoke-free prison facilities. The inmates claimed that about half of Maryland inmates smoke, making it difficult for inmates with asthma or smoke allergies to avoid the effects of secondhand smoke.

"This proves, one supposes, that states - no less than individuals - can sometimes be damned if they do and damned if they don't," Smalkin said in his ruling.

He said Maryland's prison smoking ban is appropriate, citing a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states could be held liable if they failed to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.

Smalkin also ruled that nicotine addiction could not be considered a disability because it can be cured by quitting smoking.

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