Fire-Safe Cigarettes: The Long Battle
When I was a freshman congressman, my colleague from Massachusetts, Rep. Joe Moakley, asked me whether I would co-sponsor a bill he was about to introduce to promote the use of fire-safe cigarettes. When left burning unattended, they'd extinguish themselves or burn at temperatures too low to ignite furniture or mattresses, thereby lessening the chance of fire.
After I learned how many fires smoking caused and saw the statistics on injuries and deaths that could be prevented by imposing fire-safety standards on cigarette manufacturers, I didn't find the decision difficult. I signed on, assuming that the logic of the arguments in favor of the legislation would soon overcome the tobacco companies' opposition. I was wrong. Almost a quarter of a century later, we've seen little progress toward making the fire-safe cigarette mandatory in the United States, even though the arguments in favor of fire-safe cigarettes are stronger than ever. Smoking materials are the leading cause of fatal fires in this country. Recent NFPA statistics show: In one year, smoking materials led to 900 fire deaths, 2,500 injuries, and $410 million in property. Not only do we experience a devastating loss of civilian lives, but the lives of firefighters are needlessly put at risk, as well.
There's been some action at the state level, including enactment of a bill in New York and the formation of a strong coalition supporting a tough pending bill in Massachusetts. However, we'll only begin to make a dent in these awful statistics when we have a tough national law that requires all manufacturers of smoking materials to comply.
There's hope that real progress can be made. After Moakley died last year, his cause was taken up by Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, who assembled a bipartisan coalition in Washington, D.C., and is pushing hard for the adoption of The Joseph Moakley Memorial Fire Safe Cigarette Act of 2002. So far, NFPA, the fire service, medical groups, health organizations, and advocates for burn victims, among others, have shown tremendous support, but it's going to take more to move this bill forward.
At NFPA, we've always supported changes that protect public safety, and we can be proud of our success record. The adoption of fire codes, requirements for sprinklers and smoke detectors, and standards for child-proof lighters came only after long battles, but we never gave up the fight. Now, it's time to concentrate on fire-safe cigarettes.
I'll do everything I can as president of NFPA to let our national leaders know that fire-safe cigarettes will save lives. I hope you'll join me and tell your representatives in Congress how important it is that they get behind this bill now.
James M. Shannon