Prison governors have warned that plans for smoke-free prisons in England and Wales could lead to violence Getty

Prison governors have warned that plans for smoke-free prisons in England and Wales could lead to violence among inmates and cause stability problems.

Prison Governors Association President Andrea Albutt has said a smoking ban in prisons could cause "stability issues" as she looks at implementing the changes outlined by the Ministry of Justice for all 136 prisons in England and Wales.

In an interview with the BBC, Albutt said she welcomed the changes but added that plans needed to be implemented in a "safe and staged way" as currently 80% of prison inmates smoke.

The ban could exacerbate problems with the trade of illicit substances in prisons which are dealing with a legal high epidemic. Albutt explained the changes could create a black market for cigarettes where tobacco is traded as currency.

In a statement the Ministry of Justice has said that as the ban comes into effect over the next year safety and security remain its top priorities.

A private prison in South Wales is set to introduce a smoking ban next year and public prisons are likely to follow. Scotland is also considering tighter restrictions on smoking in jails and aims to have plans in place for the bans in December 2015.

The Prison Officers Association, which has put pressure on the government to implement the ban, has welcomed the news.

Peter McParlin National Chairman of the POA said: "This is a health and safety issue for our members. Smoking is banned in workplaces throughout the UK and prisons cannot be exempt from this ban.

"The necessary resources will need to be put in place to ensure that the ban is implemented safely and that the health benefits are explained to prisoners," he added.

As prison governors consider the smoking restrictions they are also facing what Albutt characterised as a "drug epidemic".

She said prison head's first priority was to deal with widespread problems caused by legal highs in prison.

In June a riot broke out at a maximum security prison in Melbourne, Australia, after a smoking ban was imposed on the facility. Prison staff had to be evacuated as police used tear gas and water canons to disperse the disturbance. It was not the first time prisoners in Australia had rioted over smoking restrictions.