Fire-safe Cigarettes: Keep Fighting
NFPA Journal®, March/April 2009
As we launch a new advocacy campaign around home fire sprinklers, it is important to note that one of the most gratifying projects undertaken in recent years by the NFPA community is our highly successful coordination of the fire-safe cigarette campaign.
The campaign has progressed far more quickly than any of us could have imagined when we began three years ago. Our goal was to get all of the states to adopt legislation requiring that all cigarettes sold in the state be manufactured to fire-safe specifications. We chose the difficult route of seeking 50 state adoptions after decades of trying to get Congress to adopt a national bill, only to be trumped again and again by the powerful tobacco lobby in Washington.
With the enthusiastic support of the fire service, public health, consumer, and other safety advocates, this issue took off across the country. NFPA coordinated the campaign and provided legislative language, educational materials, public relations, and other support for this effort through a coalition that we organized.
The potential to save hundreds of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars annually in property losses inspired people all over the country to get behind this initiative. That effort created a juggernaut.
Less than three years after the announcement of the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes, 38 states have passed the legislation applying the fire-safe standard to all cigarette sales. The second-biggest cigarette manufacturer, R. J. Reynolds, has announced that all of its cigarettes in the United States will meet the standard by the end of 2009. Philip Morris, while not willing to go that far, is supporting our efforts to change the law state-by-state. There has also been tremendous movement internationally. Canada was an early adopter of fire-safe cigarette requirements, and now Australia and the European Union have taken action.
It is vitally important that we not let up on this campaign. Our goal of having a true national standard is in sight. But unless we get the job done in the next couple of years, we run the risk that states will, over time, succumb to the pressure to backslide on this advance. If that happens, we will lose this chance for permanent progress. If we reach the point where every cigarette sold in the United States meets the safer standard, however, there will be no turning back.
In a few years, after the laws of all of the states have been changed and taken effect, we expect to see both a significant drop in fire deaths and a measurable decline in property losses. Smoking-related fires are still the number-one cause of fire fatalities in the United States, accounting for between 700 and 900 of the 3,000 or more fire deaths every year, so this is a historic opportunity to move the country in a significant way toward fire safety. But the job isn’t done yet.
As I write this, a dozen states — Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming — still have not passed fire-safe cigarette legislation. If you live in one of those states, please get involved now. Take a look at the Coalition’s website — www.firesafecigarettes.org — and contact your legislator with the compelling argument for your state to pass this law without further delay. We have gotten this far because so many people all over the country mobilized to pass legislation where they live. Now we have to complete the job.