Analysis of fires involving smoking materials (i.e., tobacco products), including recent trends, data from other countries, and what materials are most often ignited.
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In 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 90,800 smoking-material fires in the U.S., largely unchanged from 89,500 in 2009. These fires resulted in an estimated 610 civilian deaths, 1,570 civilian injuries and $663 million in direct property damage; deaths were down from the year before. In 2010, an estimated 17,500 smoking-material home structure fires caused 540 civilian deaths (21% of all home structure fire deaths), 1,320 civilian injuries and $535 million in direct property damage.
Estimates of fires reported to U.S. municipal fire departments are based on data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and the NFPA annual survey. “Smoking materials” are lighted tobacco products but do not include lighting implements such as matches and lighters. Smoking materials are identified under heat source, and estimates include a proportional share of fires coded as heat source unknown or as unknown between smoking material and open flame source.
The long-term trend in smoking-material fires has been down, by 73% from 1980 to 2010, helped by the decline in smoking, the effect of standards and regulations that have made mattresses and upholstered furniture more resistant to cigarette ignition, and more recently, the adaption of fire-safe cigarette requirements throughout the country.
Canada and all U.S. states have passed laws or other requirements that all cigarettes sold must be “fire safe,” that is, have sharply reduced ignition strength (ability to start fires), as determined by ASTM Standard E2187-04. A simple projection linking the percentage decline in fires or fire deaths to the percentage of smokers covered would suggest that when the law is fully effective across the entire country (in late 2011), the reduction in fire deaths should reach 30%, relative to levels in 2003, the last year before the fire-safe cigarette law was effective in any state.
Trash, mattresses and bedding, and upholstered furniture, are the items most commonly ignited in smoking-material home fires. Excluding trash, these items also account for most associated fire deaths. Roughly equal shares of civilian deaths due to smoking-material fires involved fires that started in living rooms, family rooms, and dens (35%) as in bedrooms (37%).
One out of four fatal victims of smoking-material fires is not the smoker whose cigarette started the fire.
The risk of dying in a home structure fire caused by smoking materials rises with age. Nearly half (45%) of fatal home smoking-material-fire victims were age 65 or older, compared to their 13% share of the population. Older adults (age 65 and over) are less likely to smoke than younger adults. Therefore, their high rates of smoking-material fire deaths per million people are even more noteworthy.
A USFA/NFPA study recommended educational messages to support the behavioral side of a comprehensive strategy to reduce smoking fires: