In 2009, Cigs Must Put Themselves Out

July 15, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Aman Batheja

If smokers won’t put out their cigarettes, a new state law will do it for them.

Starting in 2009, all cigarettes sold in Texas will have to meet “fire-safe” standards requiring them to extinguish themselves in most cases if dropped or set aside.

Cigarettes are the top cause of fatal home fires in the United States. In 2002, lighted tobacco products caused an estimated 14,450 residential fires, 520 deaths, 1,330 injuries and $371 million in residential property damage, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

The change could lead to fewer cigarette-related fire deaths in Texas, but critics, primarily tobacco companies, say it isn’t as dramatic as supporters say and could be dangerous.

Here’s the lowdown on the upcoming change:

What makes a cigarette fire-safe?

Such cigarettes are wrapped in two or three pieces of ultrathin banded paper, which makes them more likely to go out if not smoked for a few minutes.

When does this go into effect?

The new state law takes effect Jan. 1, 2009. Retailers will have to sell any leftover stock that isn’t fire-safe by Jan. 1, 2010. The original version of the bill required it to take effect in September this year. The date was pushed back 15 months because of concerns of tobacco manufacturers that three months wasn’t enough time to make the switch.

Will this increase the cost of cigarettes in Texas?

No. Cigarette makers say the price will stay the same even though making them fire-safe will increase manufacturing costs. Philip Morris spokesman Bill Phelps said that in other states a few brands with low sales were discontinued after the fire-safe mandate went into effect, but he couldn’t say whether that could happen in Texas.

Will this change cigarettes any other way?

Most smokers shouldn’t notice any difference. There have been some anecdotal complaints from smokers in other states that fire-safe cigarettes occasionally self-extinguish while they are being smoked.

How did this law come to Texas?

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford. It had the support of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas, the Texas Fire Chiefs Association and the International Association of Arson Investigators.

What does the opposition say?

Tobacco makers say calling any burning material “fire-safe” is misleading and could lead to carelessness on the part of cigarette smokers. Some prefer “reduced ignition propensity” cigarettes (yes, RIP cigarettes). Manufacturers have also said they would prefer a national law over state laws so they could manufacture the same cigarettes for every market.

What have other states done?

In 2004, New York became the first state to require fire-safe cigarettes, and Vermont soon followed suit. A few others, including California, New Hampshire and Illinois, have passed laws requiring fire-safe cigarettes at future dates.