Illustration: John Roman
The established cigarette fire safety performance standard is based on ASTM E2187, which requires that no more than 25 percent of 40 cigarettes tested burn their full length when placed on 10 layers of standard filter paper. Photo: National Institute of Standards and Technology.
What is a fire-safe cigarette?
A fire-safe cigarette has a reduced propensity to burn when left unattended. The most common fire-safe technology used by cigarette manufacturers is to wrap cigarettes with two or three thin bands of less-porous paper that act as “speed bumps” to slow down a burning cigarette. If a fire-safe cigarette is left unattended, the burning tobacco will reach one of these speed bumps and self-extinguish.
Fire-safe cigarettes meet an established cigarette fire safety performance standard, based on ASTM E2187, Standard Test Method for Measuring the Ignition Strength of Cigarettes.
Fire-safe cigarettes save lives
In 2012, NFPA reports that 610 civilian deaths in the United States were attributed to smoking material fires in 2010, a number at or near the all-time-low and well down from the 1980 levels. During 2010 there were an estimated 90,800 smoking material fires resulting in $663 million in direct property damage.
Several factors, including a decline in smoking and stricter fire resistant standards on mattresses and upholstered furniture have been credited with the decrease in smoking material fire deaths over the last 30 years. The most recent drops in fatalities and injuries, though, owe much to the “fire-safe” cigarette legislation.
In 2003, U.S. states began requiring that all cigarettes sold must be “fire-safe,” that is, have sharply reduced ignition strength (ability to start fires), as determined by ASTM Standards. By 2010, fire-safe cigarette legislation was in effect in 47 states. From 2003 to 2010, the number of civilian deaths in smoking-material fires fell by an average of 21 percent.
2012 is the first year all 50 state laws are effective, and all inventories of pre-standard cigarettes should have sold out. A projection linking the percentage decline in fire deaths to the percentage of smokers covered suggests that when smoking material fire death numbers are analyzed for the year 2012, the reduction in civilian deaths will reach roughly 30 percent.