Pataki Vetoes Fire-Safe Cigarettes
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Gov. George Pataki has vetoed a bill that would have required tobacco companies to sell only self-extinguishing cigarettes in New York starting in April 2002.
The measure, which would have been the nation's first such law, was aimed at preventing fires started when smokers carelessly discard a cigarette or fall asleep while smoking. Tobacco companies would have been required to make cigarettes that stop burning if the smoker does not take a puff within a certain time.
In Thursday's veto message, Pataki said the legislation has ``serious defects,'' including the lack of a requirement that the self-extinguishing cigarettes not be more dangerous to the health of smokers. He also said it should have provided money or increased penalties to fight any cigarette bootlegging resulting from the new law.
The Legislature, which approved the Cigarette Fire Safety Act in April, can either override the veto or work out an alternative agreement with Pataki before it concludes its session next month.
The bill's Assembly sponsor, Alexander Grannis of Manhattan, said an override or a new deal are both ``real possibilities.''
Supporters of the measure argued that the long, continuous burn of most American cigarettes too often leads to deadly fires when they are left unattended. Cigarette-related fires account for approximately 1,000 deaths and 3,000 injuries a year nationally.
The tobacco industry has been of particular interest at the New York Legislature in the past six months.
In December, legislators voted to raise New York's cigarette taxes from 56 cents a pack to a highest-in-the-nation $1.11 a pack. It was the state's first cigarette tax increase since 1993.
The vote came a month after the state Lobbying Commission hit Philip Morris with the largest fine in commission history, $75,000, and barred its chief Albany representative from lobbying in New York for three years. Many lawmakers were linked to fancy dinners, tickets to baseball games and the opera and gratuities in excess of state limits.
Pataki, a Republican, also was under scrutiny after accusations that trips to his ancestral homeland of Hungary in 1995 and 1996 were illegally funded by corporate donations. Several groups complained that the money came from Philip Morris and other companies, but state ethics officials cleared Pataki of any wrongdoing.
Anti-tobacco groups were disappointed by Pataki's veto.
``This decision means the industry has dodged a big bullet once again,'' said Russell Sciandra of the Center for Tobacco-Free New York. ``Basically the governor has handed the tobacco industry a license to kill.''
Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group called Pataki's bootlegging reason a ``tangential'' issue that made his veto more ``about legislative horse-trading and not about the technical stuff of the (fire-safe cigarettes) bill.''
Philip Morris spokesman Brendan McCormick said there is no such thing as a fire-safe cigarette, though the company is testing cigarette paper with compounds that would induce a cigarette to stop burning.
He also said the company prefers to ``deal with this at the national level.''
``We think that a uniform standard is better than 50 potentially conflicting state standards,'' McCormick said.