Fire-Safe Cigarette Laws Expanding in U.S.
Cigarette-caused fires are #1 cause of fire death, killing 700-900 annually
A growing number of states are pushing to combat the top cause of fire deaths by requiring tobacco companies to sell only "fire safe" cigarettes, which go out more quickly if left unattended.
Tobacco companies have fought such mandates for decades, but their success appears to be waning: Since New York put the nation's first fire-safe cigarette requirement into effect in 2004,
California and Vermont have passed similar laws. A fire-safe cigarette bill that passed in Illinois awaits the governor's signature, and a bill in New Hampshire is poised for a final vote this week.
Comparable bills have been considered in at least a dozen other states during the past 18 months. Legislation in Congress would require fire-safe cigarettes nationally.
New York State Fire Administrator James Burns, president of the National Association of State Fire Marshals, says tobacco companies should move on their own to sell only fire-safe cigarettes. "We shouldn't have a patchwork of cigarette fire safety," he says.
Cigarette fires have been the top cause of U.S. fire fatalities for decades, killing tens of thousands of people in the past 30 years, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a research group that provides data for state and federal fire codes.
Deaths have declined with falling smoking rates, but cigarette fires still kill 700 to 900 people a year.
Senior citizens suffer disproportionately. They die in cigarette fires at almost four times the rate of other Americans, NFPA research shows. Nationwide, nearly one in 10 fatal building fires begin with a cigarette and end with the death of a senior citizen.
Yet many fire-safe cigarette bills introduced across the nation, including those in Congress, have stalled amid opposition from tobacco companies and their legislative allies. Most appear unlikely to pass this year.
Tobacco industry officials note that fire-safe cigarettes can still ignite trash or furniture. They argue that the best way to cut cigarette fires is by raising public awareness so smokers will be more careful. "Calling these products 'fire safe' is not accurate," says David Howard, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, the USA's second-largest tobacco company. "They could instill a false sense of security in the smoker."
But independent studies have found fire-safe cigarettes are far less likely to ignite furniture and other household items; NFPA research suggests that they can cut smoking-related fires by up to 75%. In New York, Burns cites initial data suggesting that fatalities from cigarette fires dropped by a third in the first six months after the state's fire-safe cigarette requirement took effect.
"The technology for fire-safe cigarettes has existed for decades," says NFPA President James Shannon. Tobacco companies "can make this life-saving change right away (and) ... save thousands of lives."