Bill would require fire-safe cigarettes
ATLANTA - Cigarettes sold in Georgia would have to be less likely to cause fires under a bill being pushed by a leader in the state Senate.
Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, chairman of the chamber's influential Rules Committee, said requiring retailers to sell cigarettes with bands that can stop them from burning would help prevent fires that kill about 1,000 people and cause $400 million in damage in the United States each year.
"This safer cigarette would be a way to save lives in the state of Georgia," Balfour said Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate committee considering the bill. Critics, from the tobacco industry to convenience store groups, quickly lined up to oppose the plan, saying technology that reduces fire risk may actually make cigarettes more unhealthy to smoke. They also said the extra cost and different taste of the fire-safe cigarettes would drive smokers, and their money, across state lines or to the Internet to buy their favorite brands.
"Customers are very brand-loyal," said Jim Tudor, president of the 2,600-member Georgia Association of Convenience Stores. "I think we're making it much too easy with this to see sales revenue moving to other states."
Another critic made a less-than-subtle reference to Balfour's sponsorship last year of a bill that legalized sparklers and some other fireworks in Georgia. Opponents said the bill would result in more fires.
"Sparklers and cigarettes don't cause fires," said Rusty Kidd, a lobbyist for R.J. Reynolds tobacco company. "The people who use sparklers and smoke cigarettes cause fires."
The cigarettes proposed under Balfour's bill contain internal bands designed to snuff out the tip once a smoker stops sucking air through it. New York, California and Vermont now require the bands on cigarettes. The bill has the backing of fire safety groups, as well as the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association.
Andy Lord of the cancer society said one out of every four fire deaths is associated with cigarettes.
"I don't think we can dispute the fact that this would reduce those deaths," Lord said.
Lord and Balfour disagreed with tobacco industry lobbyists who said the smokeless technology increases the levels of carbon monoxide and other dangerous chemicals smokers consume. Lord said a Harvard University study showed that the 14 most dangerous carcinogens in cigarettes were not increased by the technology and five others showed minor increases.
The Senate's Agriculture and Consumer Affairs committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday. Chairman John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, asked for more information from supporters and detractors. He did not say when, or if, the committee would vote. Balfour, who as Rules Committee chair helps decide which bills appear on the Senate floor, said he knows the plan will face opposition.