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Illinois Residents: To Quit Smoking, Commit a Crime!

As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel strong-armed a public use ban on e-cigarettes through the City Council on Wednesday, January 15, NBC reported that two jails in the rolling hills of southern Illinois have approved use of the devices by inmates.

Since jails often ban smoking by inmates, the introduction of contraband cigarettes is a frequent problem. Correctional authorities in White County and Saline County, in the southern Illinois region known as "Little Egypt", believe they have taken a stride toward solving this problem by allowing inmates to use harmless electronic cigarettes instead of the cancer-producing combustibles. The measures have seemed so salubrious that officials in nearby Williamson, Franklin, and Wabash Counties are considering the same step.

“I think it’s a trend all counties will eventually adopt,” said White County jail honcho Randy Cobb about the measure, adding that it has decreased incidence of contraband and at the same time boosted inmate morale. "Initially I was against it, but I haven't seen any issues with it so far," chimes in Harrisburg (Saline County) jail administrator Brian Bennett.

The southern counties called "Egypt" or "Little Egypt" are culturally and demographically distinct from the rest of the state. Largely rural and overwhelmingly white, their cultural profile and political sympathies have always been more aligned with the American South, dating back before the Civil War. Diverse reasons are proposed for the origin of the sobriquet "Egypt". It seems that crop failures in the northern part of the state sometimes drove Illini south to acquire needed grain, and this reminded biblically-minded pioneers of events in the good book, relating to the settlement of Israelites in Egypt. It was also noted that the area is surrounded by great rivers: the Ohio, the Wabash, and the Mississippi, a feature that has been compared with the Nile delta in Egypt. For whatever reason, the area began naming it's towns after Egyptian and classical Greek cities in the early 19th century, most famously in the case of Cairo, Illinois (pronounced 'Kay-row' by locals), at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, which will remind Mark Twain fans of his novel Huckleberry Finn. The region is also home to the towns Karnak, Thebes, New Athens (pronounced 'ay-thenz'), Sparta, and Metropolis. Just downriver, of course, lies Memphis, Tennessee.

The region is also home to one of the world's great universities, Southern Illinois University, whose campuses in Carbondale and St. Louis suburb Edwardsville became the academic home of architecture and planning guru Buckminster Fuller.

The only issue that appears to be causing tension is the fact that prison officials in other states (we are not told which ones) are using e-cigs to raise funds for jail programs, according to Lee Enterprises newspapers. The Illinois chapter of the American Lung Association takes a dim view of this, and officials of the Illinois Department of Corrections has announced that e-cigs will not be sold in facility dispensaries. Apparently prisoners will have to order online, or have friends and family bring them the smoking-cessation devices.