NFPA Journal® online exclusive, October 2007
By Lisa Nadile
Sometimes it takes a different set of voices than the norm to communicate a message before it is heard. One such example is the route taken by the fire-safe cigarette legislation in New Hampshire.
The “Live Free or Die” state is one of 22 states that have passed legislation mandating only the sale of fire-safe, or self-extinguishing cigarettes. New Hampshire ’s legislation will go into effect in October thanks to the New Hampshire Fire Chiefs Association, the City of Dover Fire Department, and members of Youth2Youth, a Dover-based after-school drug prevention program.
Youth2Youth is comprised of about 200 4th to 12th graders from four Dover schools: Dover Middle School, Dover High School, Saint Mary Academy and Saint Thomas Aquinas High School. Let by one student, Emily Martuscello, a team from Youth2Youth brought the issue of fire-safe cigarettes to the attention of Chief Perry Plummer of the City of Dover Fire and Rescue Department.
“Youth2Youth is run by the Dover Police Department. We focus on drug prevention, mainly alcohol and tobacco. At one of the weekly meetings our adviser, Capt. Dana Mitchell told us about the fire-safer cigarette law that just passed in NY. At the time I was trying to come up with a topic for a school research paper. I contacted Chief Plummer and then we went from there,” Martuscello says.
Currently in the 11th grade, Martuscello plans on attending college and majoring in Political Science. “I want to go on and serve my community as a politician,” she says.
While Chief Plummer faced some challenges unique to the state of New Hampshire, he also saw the need for fire-safe cigarettes in his state and the important impact a group of youths could have on the success of this legislative effort.
“Obviously we’re here to prevent fires and protect the public, and I can’t think of a better way to protect the public than eliminating the single leading cause of home fires, and that’s cigarette-related fires,” he says.
One of the unique challenges the Chief faced was the independent nature of the people of New Hampshire, who take the state’s live “free or die” motto to heart and who don’t welcome unnecessary rules and regulations. He knew he had to prove the worthiness of the mandate. Another issue facing the Chief was the worry that the legislation could negatively impact New Hampshire ’s economy, which because of its tax freedoms has much lower cigarette prices than other states, and sees many consumers traveling to the state to purchase items like cigarettes. The state is dependent on the revenue it receives from these sales. Chief Plummer knew he had to prove the mandate of fire-safe cigarettes would leave that revenue stream untouched.
“First and foremost we had to discover how the product would fiscally impact our state. I don’t think anyone doubted the effectiveness of the product,” he says. He brought this issue to the attention of the New Hampshire Fire Chiefs Association, which decided to support the effort, albeit with a healthy dose of skepticism with regard to the possibility of success.
That began a two-year odyssey for the Chief and Fire Marshal Bill Degnan, both of whom worked on researching the issue and educating others on a daily basis. They brainstormed what the arguments would be and how to combat those arguments with facts, not dogma.
“We went to a well-known economist at the University of New Hampshire and asked…if the department could do a study on the revenue impact of this on our state. That was actually a big part of our argument. We did the research and we proved without a shadow of a doubt that it would not impact our state from a financial standpoint,” says Chief Plummer.
“From there is it was just a matter of whether this product will work, and I don’t think that was much of an issue. I think everyone knows—even the tobacco industry knows—that this product will make a difference,” he says.
Making sure to keen the teenagers involved and partnering with them definitely had an impact, Chief Plummer says. “Youth2Youth is a very active group. They are very well spoken and they are committed. When we went and testified, it took meetings at the State house…and you have the youth movement speak as eloquently as they did, it impressed the committees. Add that to the fire service, it’s really a pretty powerful partnership, [and] I recommend it,” he says.
The feeling is mutual. “The fire department was such a great partner in getting this law passed,” Martucello says. She worked hard reaching out to her community, calling her senators and representatives. “Chief Plummer and I also held a press conference were the media, community members and legislators attended. I spoke about the importance of the legislation and then we demonstrated how the safer cigarettes work compared to regular cigarettes. I testified in front of the ways and means committee several times,” she say.
The partnership with Youth2Youth widens the issue's appeal to the legislature, an important factor in New Hampshire, which has the largest legislature in the country with 450 legislatures, Chief Plummer says. “Any state can get this passed if they do their grassroots homework. We reached out to the local fire chiefs…so it was a local constituent calling their representative,” he says.
Tapping the local chiefs wasn’t easy and required a lot of time and education, but the grassroots campaign was critical to the campaign’s success, he says. The elected officials need to get the message from local people—those that will vote for them.
To convince the local fire chiefs, the Chief, Fire Marshal Bill Degnan, and
“I can’t say enough about the [hard work] of our local fire chiefs. Some were skeptical because of the ‘Live free or die’ motto of our state that this would ever get passed, but as the facts started coming out we were able to convince them. You have to get out there and convince your fire chiefs why it is important for their department,” Chief Plummer says. Some of the points he made included reducing the number of fires, reducing health care costs because the number of injuries in fire would be reduced, and increasing firefighter safety because of the reduction in the number of incidents.
Two years after the New Hampshire Fire Chiefs Association, Emily Martucello, and Youth2Youth brought fire-safe cigarettes to the attention to the state legislature, it was prepared to listen. The bill mandating the sale of only fire-safe cigarettes in New Hampshire was signed the summer of 2006 and goes into effect in October of 2007. The issue had become a matter of state pride in the altruism of its youth. It gained even more weight when the legislature heard clear facts that it would only take this very small step to save lives. The situation had become a win-win for all involved.
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An interview with Minneapolis Fire Chief Jim Clack.
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|Flammable Ice Cream? Yes.
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|‘Live Free or Die’ State Listens to Its Youth
The sale of fire-safe cigarettes only becomes law in October