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Brussels, 29 November 2007
Questions and Answers on Home Fire Safety
What exactly is a "fire-safer" cigarette? How does it work?
The most common "fire-safer" technology, used by cigarette manufacturers, is to wrap cigarettes with 2 or 3 thin bands of thickened paper that act as "speed bumps" to slow down a burning cigarette. If a cigarette is left unattended, the burning tobacco will soon hit one of these speed bumps and self-extinguish. "Fire-safer" cigarettes meet an established cigarette fire safety performance standard (based on ASTM E2187, Standard Test Method for Measuring the Ignition Strength of Cigarettes).
Is there any reason to believe that "fire-safer" cigarettes will really save lives?
There is no doubt that fire-safer cigarettes will save hundreds of lives each year. There are indications that deaths caused by cigarette fires have declined dramatically in New York State since "fire-safer" cigarettes were mandated there. The use of cigarettes with a proven, reduced propensity to ignite other materials will save lives in Europe. "Fire-safer" cigarettes offer the best opportunity to achieve the next big leap forward in fire protection for private houses since cigarettes are by far the major cause of death in domestic fires.
So, essentially, a "fire-safer" cigarette simply takes more time to catch something on fire, isn't that correct?
No. A cigarette is a weak heat source and will tend to take time to start a fire. A "fire-safer" cigarette cuts off the burning time and the probability it will be able to ignite things like furniture or bedding material becomes extremely small. Put simply, in most cases, a fire safer cigarette left unattended will extinguish itself before the fire can start.
Is it possible for a "fire-safer" cigarette to ignite furniture or bedding?
All cigarettes have the potential to ignite fires, but the use of "fire-safer" technology provides a tremendous reduction in those risks. If tobacco companies would sell only "fire-safer" cigarettes, we would greatly reduce the likelihood of fires and eliminate the deaths of hundreds of fire victims each year. Without "fire-safer" cigarettes, we know people will continue to needlessly die in fires started by cigarettes. If this new standard is adopted, we will begin to save lives.
Isn't the real issue here the need to educate people about using cigarettes in a responsible way?
Actually, the real issue is that cigarettes are the leading cause of home fire fatalities every year. They also contribute to forest fires. Fires started by cigarettes kill smokers and non-smokers alike. Cigarette fires also burn and injure thousands of people, while causing millions of euros in property losses. It is possible to prevent those horrible situations through the use of fire-safer cigarettes.
The reality is that without changing the cigarettes, there will still be hundreds of needless cigarette-fire deaths every year. That is why this new standard offers the best opportunity to achieve the next big leap forward in fire-protection.
Don't you believe the term "fire-safer" is misleading? Aren't you concerned that people will be more reckless if they think there is no way their cigarette can start a fire?
Cigarettes that are less likely to ignite furniture or bedding material are safer from fire. That is a fact. There are some opponents of this new standard, who want to focus on wordplay rather than facts. It goes against common sense - and the available evidence - to believe that people who have never before been reckless about how they smoke will suddenly become reckless because of a change in what they smoke.
The technology exists to dramatically reduce the risk of fires caused by cigarettes. We should collectively take advantage of it, instead of leaving accidents happen year after year.
Forcing this standard on the tobacco companies will cost more money. It will push up prices; it will cut sales tax revenue. Why should we do that if these cigarettes can still start fires?
A comprehensive study done by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the New York fire-safer cigarette requirement had no negative effect on cigarette sales in that state.
The study shows that consumers accept "fire-safer" cigarettes. In fact, there is really no reason why tobacco companies should try to block the use of "fire-safer" cigarettes. The time has come.
The price increase for cigarettes would be limited to between 0.08 and 0.16% according to estimates of the Canadian health authorities.
What are other countries doing?
New York State was the first US state to require that cigarettes sold and manufactured in the state be "fire-safer". To date, also Vermont, California, New Hampshire and Oregon have fire-safer legislation in force, 17 further states will follow by 2010 at the latest. Additional 11 states are considering "fire-safer" bills now and other states and jurisdictions are looking into it In Canada, fire-safer cigarettes are mandated nationwide using the New York state standards, and Australia is preparing such legislation.