The choice is simple
NFPA Journal®, November/December 2005
In my last column, I wrote that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was deciding whether to sign into law the fire-safe cigarette bill that had been passed by the legislature. I am happy to report that on October 7, the governor signed the bill into law. Now the people of California will have the same protection as the citizens of New York and Vermont, which had already enacted similar legislation, and Canada, which adopted a law that, as of October 1, 2005, requires that only fire-safe cigarettes be manufactured, imported, or exported.
This movement toward fire-safe cigarettes is a tremendous step forward in fire safety, but its full benefit will only be achieved when such cigarettes are the standard everywhere. Let’s look again at how smoking contributes to the fire problem in the United States.
Smoking-related fires are the leading cause of U.S. residential fire deaths, accounting for more than 25 percent of reported home fire deaths. To put it more starkly, about 700 people a year die in fires caused by smoking.
How effective would a nationwide requirement to manufacture fire-safe cigarettes be? An analysis released in September revealed a one-third reduction in the number of deaths attributed to cigarette fires in New York after its fire-safe cigarette law took effect last year. That is great news by anyone’s standards, but there is reason to believe that the full impact will be much greater. During much of the year, smokers were still smoking non-compliant cigarettes, and retailers were still free to sell their non-compliant inventories. Once those old cigarettes are out of the picture—and they should be by now—we will see an even more dramatic reduction in the loss of life.
Where do we go from here? There are three ways to achieve our goal of a national fire-safe cigarette standard. The first is to support the national legislation sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). NFPA is working with a coalition of fire service and public health advocates to get this bill through, but its prospects are not great in the short term. It must compete with many other national priorities, and the tobacco lobby has shown its considerable muscle whenever national legislation to regulate it has been discussed in the past. Nevertheless, we will continue to fight hard for its passage.
The second way is to continue the state-by-state approach. Here, the momentum is on our side, and we can expect that the experience in New York, California, and Vermont will set an example that other states will follow. But the well-funded lobbying efforts of cigarette manufacturers and their allies could slow things down. I am confident we can get to a de facto national standard state-by-state, but probably only after thousands of unnecessary deaths.
The third and quickest way to achieve our goal is to get the U.S. cigarette industry to manufacture fire-safe cigarettes exclusively before they are forced to do so. This possibility is not as farfetched as it might seem. To reach their market in the three states where the law has been changed, companies will have to manufacture fire-safe cigarettes. New York’s tax revenues from cigarettes did not decline, so the tobacco industry has no reason to fear adverse economic effects for their shareholders. Their choice is simple: They can obstruct this reform at the cost of many lives, or they can save these lives at no cost to themselves.
In 1929, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers took the first step toward requiring fire-safe cigarettes when she sponsored a bill that led the National Bureau of Standards to develop the first such cigarette. After it had been developed, the director of the Bureau said “that all there is to do is to find a manufacturer to take up that idea.” That is as true today as it was then.
For the sake of all of those people whose lives are in the tobacco companies’ hands, we are going to keep pushing the industry.
In this Section:
Protecting health care occupancies
The choice is simple
Use of illegal drugs ignites fire
Fire sprinklers in nursing homes
Letters to the editor
Maintenance is crucial, too
‘Grand challenges’ face fire suppression
Command transfer: Proceed with caution