New York state may pass "fire-safe" cigarette law
ALBANY, N.Y., April 13 (Reuters) - New York may become the first state in the country to force tobacco companies to produce ``fire-safe'' cigarettes under legislation unveiled Thursday by state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
The Senate bill is expected to be voted on next week without opposition, said Ed DeCosmo, a spokesman for Sen. Frank Padavan, a Queens Republican, who has sponsored the measure each year since 1997.
Fire-safe cigarettes are already available in Europe and in the United States there are more than 130 patents for cigarettes that either go out by themselves if dropped or left unattended.
``Cigarette companies have had the ability to reduce smoking-related fires for years and have even successfully test-marketed 'safer' cigarettes, but have largely refused to bring this life-saving technology to the marketplace,'' said Padavan.
Philip Morris Cos the world's largest cigarette maker, said it is currently test marketing in some places, under its Merit brand, a new paper that slows down the speed at which a cigarette burns.
Mary Carnovale, a spokeswoman for the company, said it supports a fire-safety standard for cigarettes, but the standard would have to ensure that the health risks from smoking do not increase and that the new cigarettes would have to taste good enough to be accepted by smokers.
``For this to truly make sense, obviously consumer acceptability needs to be evaluated,'' she said.
Carnovale said Philip Morris would prefer a ``unified national approach'' to the issue.
``The Senate will no longer allow the cigarette makers to fiddle while our homes burn,'' Padavan said at a news conference.
Padavan represents a district heavily populated by senior citizens, who are two-thirds of the victims of cigarette-related deaths in the country.
The new legislation comes three days after the state Assembly unanimously passed a similar bill by a vote of 143-0. Once it passes the Senate, the bill then will go to Gov. George Pataki for his consideration.
Bruno said cigarettes are responsible for more fatal fires than any other cause, including arson. In New York City, 28 percent of all fire deaths in 1999 were caused by cigarettes.
``Nationally every year, there are approximately 1,000 deaths, 3,000 injuries and several billions in property damage due to dropped cigarettes,'' DeCosmo said.
New York State is the first state in the country to push for the new type of cigarettes. Minnesota has considered legislation but nothing has been proposed.
There is no federal legislation requiring the sale of fire-safe cigarettes.
Until recently, some firefighter organisations have resisted the legislation because they feared people would have a false sense of security with the safer cigarettes and be less careful about disposing of matches.
But one firefighter group that has always supported fire-safe cigarettes hailed Thursday's action.
``We are ecstatic, but will be even more when the governor signs it,'' said Bill Schlegel, co-chairman of the legislation committee of the Fireman's Association of the State of New York. ``We just want the cigarette producers to make a product that won't cause fires.''