Banning smoking in prisons in England and Wales could make them more unstable, the Prison Governors Association (PGA) has warned.
Ministers are drawing up plans to convert the first jails to be smoke-free next year.
PGA president Andrea Albutt “cautiously” welcomed the move but said it must be done in a “safe and staged” way as 80% of prisoners smoked.
The Ministry of Justice said safety and security remained its “top” priorities.
The government intends to ban smoking in all 136 prisons in England and Wales to reduce health risks – it is currently allowed only in prison cells and exercise yards.
The move follows a series of legal challenges by prison officers and inmates who have complained about the effects of passive smoking.
Mrs Albutt, who has governed four prisons, most recently Bristol, is heading a team that will be implementing the changes.
The privately run Parc Prison, in south Wales, is expected to go smoke-free next year, and publicly-run jails in Wales and south-west England are likely to follow.
Speaking on behalf of the Prison Governors Association, Mrs Albutt said the organisation agreed with the ban but said it had to be done in a managed and gradual way to avoid unrest, as about 80% of prisoners were smokers.
Stopping them smoking could result in “stability issues”, she told BBC News, in her first interview since becoming the organisation’s president on an interim basis.
She added that banning tobacco would create “potential problems” because it risked turning it into an illicit item to be smuggled in and traded by prisoners as “currency”.
Joe Simpson, assistant general secretary for the Prison Officers Association, compared the effects of passive smoking on prison officers with the risks posed to bar workers before smoking in pubs was banned.
“All we are asking is for something that will help protect our members,” he said.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are continuing to consider how to reduce the prevalence of smoking across the prison estate but the safety and security of prisons will always be our top priority.”
Source – BBC website – link