Close to 900 people die annually and as many as 2500 are injured by fires started by cigarettes and related smoking materials (see reel news report of furniture/mattress fires started by smoking materials and candles). While the number of deaths and injuries from fires started from these materials have decreased over the years, these United States fire loss tragedies remain the worst among industrialized nations.
The State of New York has passed legislation addressing the problem, forcing cigarette makers to manufacture and sell in New York after June 28, 2004, only cigarettes which will self-extinguish if the smoker doesn't puff on them regularly. The theory is that if a smoker lights a self-extinguishing cigarette and falls asleep or accidentally discards it, it will extinguish on its own, after only a few minutes instead of possibly smoldering for an extended period, causing a potentially deadly fire. Statistics show that this ignition scenario is quite common among the fire losses studied.
The State of New York accounted for more than 4% of the 2002 U.S. cigarette market, which is too large a market for manufacturers to ignore. The real question is whether the manufacturers will make the "safer" cigarettes in the other 49 states. If they don't, then they invite huge numbers of product liability claims. How do they justify the sale of a fire safe cigarette for the citizens of New York, but an unsafe cigarette for the citizens in say, South Carolina. It would be difficult for a cigarette manufacturer to explain to a jury in litigation which results from a cigarette ignition of upholstered furniture which severely burns a child where it is shown that the same cigarette this manufacturer sells in New York would not have caused such a fire.
The self-extinguishing cigarettes are made with special paper or wrapping containing bands or "speed bumps" which slows or stops the burning when cigarettes are not being puffed regularly. The banded paper is in short supply says R.J. Reynolds. Phillip Morris and Lorillard say they have steady suppliers. In fact, Phillip Morris has been using the banded paper in its Merit brand nationwide, since 2000.
While no other state has such a law, as of June, 2004, some such as Massachusetts, are considering one. The Canadian Parliament passed a bill March 31, 2004, requiring all cigarettes sold to self-extinguish if left unsmoked. Our U.S. Congress House Representative Ed Markley (D-MA), along with Representative Peter King (R-NY), introduced the Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2004. (HR-4155, April 2, 2004)
Markley, referring to "these little torches", stated "Everyone in the U.S. deserves the same level of protection from fires caused by cigarettes. That is why... I am proposing a bill that requires the CPSC to adopt the New York cigarette fire safety standard as the national standard. The NFPA, National Association of State Fire Marshal's Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and National Volunteer Fire Council support the legislation.
This promising legislation will hopefully significantly reduce the devastation caused in this country by fires ignited by unattended cigarettes.