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Brussels, 2 February 2006

Child-resistant lighters: Commission calls on Member States to back measures to reduce accidents

On 8 - 9 February 2006 the European Commission will present a proposal for a Decision requiring producers and importers of lighters to make their products child-resistant. The proposal will be discussed by the Committee of Member States under the General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC. An estimated 34 to 40 people, often children, die annually in the EU due to children playing with unsafe lighters. Many more people suffer serious and permanent injuries. Considerable material damage caused by accidents with lighters is also reported every year. Simple devices can be added to lighters to make them child-resistant, at an average cost of just 4 eurocents per lighter. Safety standards were agreed on a voluntary basis within the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) in 2002, but they are not applied. However, producers abide to similar safety requirements in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A US study showed a 60% decrease in fires started by children after a law on child resistant lighters was passed in the United States – proving the benefits of such legislation.

Markos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said: “I call on European Member States to help us protect our children and save their lives. At very low cost, producers and importers can apply safety standards which they have no problem in implementing elsewhere in the world when required. For just 4 eurocents, they can potentially save the life of a child - is this asking too much? With manufacturers refusing to implement voluntary standards, we are now forced to resort to legislation. The Commission has put its proposal on the table, it is now up to Member States to endorse it and help us save lives. I am confident they will not let European consumers – and children – down.”

Evidence of risks to children

More than one billion lighters are sold on the European market every year, and they are often within the reach of children. Lighters are often sold in multi-packs and used by consumers as low-value, throw-away products.

Accidents caused by young children playing with lighters occur every year in the European Union. Lighters are inherently dangerous, since they produce an unprotected flame and heat. In the EU, lighters do not have to be child-resistant, yet the consequences of children playing with lighters can be dramatic: deaths, injuries and material damage which sometimes amount to several hundred thousand euros.

In the UK, between 1999 and 2003, an average of 5 deaths and 220 injuries every year were caused by children under the age of nine playing with lighters. On the basis of the UK statistics, an average of 34 to 40 deaths and 1,500 to 1,900 injuries due to children playing with lighters can be estimated for the EU-25.

Effectiveness of legislation in other regions of the world

Since 1995, the United States has had legislation for child-resistant lighters. Such legislation has also been introduced in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The effectiveness of such legislation is self-evident. In 2002, a US study reported a 60 % annual reduction in deaths, injuries and material damages due to fires started by children after the relevant legislation was passed.

A minor cost for producers and importers

The impact on business and consumers of introducing child-resistance requirements for lighters in the EU will be minimal. The increase in cost of a lighter can be estimated to be between 1 and 5 € cents, according to US data, with very limited impact on the market. To put it into perspective, 5 € cents corresponds to the cost of around 1/5 cigarette in France or 1 cigarette in Poland.

Moreover, major European and Asian lighter producers have already been exporting child-resistant lighters for years to the US and the other countries which have legislation in place on child-resistant lighters. According to Eurostat statistics for 2004, more than 43 million € of disposable lighters were exported from the EU to such countries. Producers have therefore the know-how and technology to make lighters child-resistant. Nevertheless they continue to place dangerous non-child-resistant lighters on the EU market due to the lack of legislation.

Member States to face their responsibilities

A CEN voluntary European standard on child-resistance of lighters exists since 2002 but is not applied by producers and importers.

The Commission has discussed with Member States the issue of child-resistant lighters for several years, and proposed legislation in July 2005. On 8 - 9 February 2006, a revised proposal will be presented to EU Member States.

In order to help EU Member States’ market surveillance authorities better assess the safety of lighters, the Commission intends to launch a joint surveillance project. The project is foreseen to run parallel with the introduction of the new legislation on child-resistance of lighters.

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