Banded cigarettes should reduce home fires
The Legislature passed a bill that will require all cigarettes in the state to be equipped with bands causing them to self-extinguish.
Smoking cigarettes remains a serious health hazard, but the risk of a lit cigarette causing a fire can be expected to decrease when self-extinguishing cigarettes are required next year. Hawaii has joined more than half the states in approving legislation to ensure that cigarettes meet that standard.
A bill proposed by Rep. Ryan Yamane to initiate the requirement in September 2009, coinciding with a tobacco tax increase and stamp, received overwhelming support. It would require that every cigarette sold in the state have at least two denser bands of paper likened to "speed bumps" designed to cause it to extinguish if not consistently inhaled.
In 2005, the most recent year in which figures are available, 82,400 fires caused by smoking killed 800 people and injured 1,660 in the United States, mostly in home fires. In that year, cigarettes caused 438 fires resulting in nearly $1.5 million in property damage, according to Honolulu Fire Chief Kenneth G. Silva.
Cigarette-ignited fires are the largest cause of fire deaths in the country. Statistics gathered in the 1990s by the U.S. Consumer Produce Safety Commission indicate that one-fourth of all fire fatalities result from a smoker falling asleep in bed or dropping a lighted cigarette on a couch or chair.
National Fire Protection Association research in the mid-1980s estimated that "reduced ignition propensity" -- mistakenly dubbed "fire-safe" -- cigarettes would eliminate three-fourths of the 700 to 900 cigarette fire deaths that occur yearly. That would save the lives of about 600 people a year.
Cigarette-caused fires have declined in New York, which was the first state to initiate the requirement in 2004, but the new cigarettes' role is uncertain. Smoking has gone down across the country, while standards for fire-resistive mattresses and upholstered furniture has become more stringent.
Tobacco companies have been scrambling to meet the requirements since New York passed its legislation. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which had opposed the New York law, announced last October that it will put bands around all of its cigarette brands by the end of next year. Philip Morris USA has supported federal legislation that would make the requirement uniform throughout the country. Since the cigarettes contain the same blend of tobacco, they have no good reason to oppose it.
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