These cigarettes are fire-safe cigarettes, as shown by the "FSC" markings on the boxes.
If cigarettes are fire-safe, why are we still experiencing cigarette-initiated fires and casualties resulting from these fires?
"Fire-safe" is a historically created term used to describe cigarettes that are more accurately described as "less fire-prone" or of "reduced ignition propensity." The pass/fail criterion (see below) in the current regulations was intended to provide the maximum improvement in public safety within the cigarette test performance available at the time. The cigarette packaging carries the letters "FSC," standing for "fire standard compliant." The typical design of a fire-safe cigarette and the test for compliance are both focused on cigarette ignitions of upholstered furniture, mattresses and bedding, which accounted for about 80% of the cigarette fire deaths in the mid-1980s when we began studying the feasibility of fire-safe cigarettes.
How do we measure the reduced ignition propensity of cigarettes?
In the U.S., Canada, and Australia, the cigarettes are tested using ASTM E 2187, Standard Test Method for Measuring the Ignition Strength of Cigarettes. (A standard derived from this, ISO 12863, is the basis for a regulation for reduced ignition propensity cigarettes in Europe beginning on November 17, 2011.) In a test, a lit cigarette is placed on a standard substrate, which acts as a small heat sink. (To make sure that the test will produce the same results every time, the substrate is made of a stack of very thin paper of a type that is especially easy to standardize, which would not be possible with a substrate made of commercially available cloth.) If the cigarette burns strongly, it will continue burning despite this heat loss, potentially being capable of igniting a real bed or piece of upholstered furniture. If the cigarette burns weakly, even the small heat loss to the test substrate will lead to the cigarette extinguishing. The procedure is repeated 40 times, and the number of full-length burns is recorded.
The pass/fail criterion in all the current regulations is that no more than 10 of the 40 tested cigarettes (of a given brand style) burn their full length. This does not mean that cigarette-initiated fires will necessarily be reduced by three-fourths. It does mean that the new cigarettes do not burn as long as the pre-regulation cigarettes.
Are the less fire-prone cigarettes saving lives from fire?
Yes. New York was the first state to mandate reduced ignition propensity cigarettes. That rule became effective on June 28, 2004. The number of fire deaths dropped by about 40%, comparing the years prior to the date of passage of the law with the years since the effective date. During these years, not all of the cigarettes smoked in New York have been purchased in New York. Thus, the effectiveness of the reduced ignition propensity cigarettes might be even greater. At any rate, this is a far sharper decline than the reduction in the number of smokers, which was under 10% over the same period.
It is also good news that deaths due to cigarette-ignited fires are down by 21% from 2003, the latest year before any state implemented a fire-safe cigarette law. The latest NFPA report on smoking-related fires estimates that decline will reach 30% by the time data is in from 2011 and every state has fully implemented a fire-safe cigarette law.
There are likely to be some statistical analyses that question the impact of fire-safe cigarettes by claiming that the number of cigarette-initiated fires has not decreased much. When reading stories like this, remember that the new cigarettes are designed primarily to prevent ignitions of upholstered furniture, mattresses and bedding, which accounted for about 80% of cigarette fire deaths in the mid-1980s and about 70% of cigarette fire deaths in the mid-2000s, but only about 25% of cigarette fires in buildings in the mid-2000s.
Will the FSC cigarettes also prevent some or most of the cigarette fires that start in places other than furniture and beds, such as in trash bins and forests?
We don’t know. The science of how cigarettes start fires suggests that there should be some reduction in deaths and injuries from all types of cigarette fires. However, the effect may be much smaller and hard to confirm.
Is it possible for cigarettes to be even less fire-prone?
Theoretically, yes. Even if the current cigarettes halve the number of deaths from cigarette-initiated fires, as we project they will do and as the New York results indicate they do, cigarettes will still be a leading cause of fire deaths. Thus, it could be worth considering further improvements in cigarette fire safety. Progress would depend on product development efforts within the cigarette manufacturing industry, a next-generation ignition performance measurement method from the research community, interest from the regulatory authorities, and acceptance by the smoking public.