Open Access Open Badges Research article

Social support and smoking abstinence among incarcerated adults in the United States: a longitudinal study

Beth Bock18*, Cheryl E Lopes2, Jacob J van den Berg1, Mary B Roberts3, LAR Stein4, Rosemarie A Martin5, Stephen A Martin6 and Jennifer G Clarke7

Author Affiliations

1 Alpert Medical School – Brown University, Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, The Miriam Hospital, 167 Point Street, Providence, RI 02903, USA

2 Rhode Island Department of Corrections, 40 Howard Avenue, Cranston, RI 02920, USA

3 Memorial Hospital of RI, Brown University Center for Primary Care & Prevention, Pawtucket, RI 02860, USA

4 University of Rhode Island, Social Sciences Research Center, 130 Flagg Road, Kingston, RI 02881, USA

5 Brown University, Center for Alcohol and Addictions Studies, 121 South Main Street, Providence, RI 02903, USA

6 Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 151 Worcester Road, Barre, MA 01005, USA

7 Center for Primary Care and Prevention, Memorial Hospital of RI, 111 Brewster Street, Pawtucket, RI 02860, USA

8 The Miriam Hospital, Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, Coro West, Suite 309, 164 Summit Avenue, Providence, RI 02906, USA

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:859  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-859

Published: 17 September 2013



In the United States, tobacco use among prisoners is nearly three times that of the general population. While many American prisons and jails are now tobacco-free, nearly all inmates return to smoking as soon as they are released back into the community.


To better understand the role that personal relationships may play in enabling return to smoking, we enrolled former-smokers who were inmates in a tobacco-free prison. Baseline assessments were conducted six weeks prior to inmates’ scheduled release and included measures of smoking prior to incarceration, motivation, confidence and plans for remaining quit after release. We also assessed global social support (ISEL) and a measure of social support specific to quitting smoking (SSQ). Smoking status was assessed three weeks after prison release and included 7-day point-prevalence abstinence validated by urine cotinine, days to first cigarette and smoking rate.


A diverse sample comprised of 35% women, 20% Hispanic, and 29% racial minorities (average age 35.5 years) provided baseline data (n = 247). Over 90% of participants provided follow up data at 3-weeks post-release. Prior to incarceration participants had smoked an average of 21.5 (SD = 11.7) cigarettes per day. Only 29.2% had definite plans to remain smoking-abstinent after release. Approximately half of all participants reported that “most” or “all” of their family (42.2%) and friends (68%) smoked, and 58.8% reported their spouse or romantic partner smoked.

SSQ scores were not significantly predictive of smoking outcomes at three weeks, however, social support from family and friends were each significantly and positively correlated with motivation, confidence, and plans for remaining abstinent (all p values <0.05). These smoking-related attitudinal variables were significantly predictive of smoking outcomes (all p values <0.01). General social support (ISEL) was not associated with smoking-related attitudinal variables or smoking outcomes.


Inmates of smoke-free prisons have a head-start on being smoke-free for life. They have been abstinent well past the duration of nicotine withdrawal and have great financial incentive not to begin smoking again. However, this advantage may be offset by a lack of non-smoking role models among their family and friends, and perceived lack of support for remaining smoke-free.

Trial registration Identifier: NCT01684995

Smoking abstinence; Tobacco; Prison; Incarceration; Social support