In 1929, a cigarette-ignited fire in Lowell, MA, caught the attention of U.S. Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers (D-MA); she called for the National Bureau of Standards (Bureau) to develop technology for "self-snubbing" cigarettes. The Boston Herald American covered the story on March 31, 1932, noting, that after three years of research, the Bureau had developed a “self-snubbing” cigarette and the Bureau suggested that cigarette manufacturers “take up the idea.” No cigarette manufacturer took the advice of the Bureau.
In 1974, the U.S. Senate approved a bill, introduced by Senator Phil Hart (D-Michigan), to require “self-extinguishing” cigarettes, but Hart’s bill was defeated by the tobacco lobby in the U.S. House of Representatives. Subsequently, the U.S. Congress and President Ford, at the behest of the tobacco lobby, amended the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Act to remove the authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate cigarettes.
Grassroots campaign launched
On May 24,1979, the Trauma Foundation, based at San Francisco General Hospital, organized simultaneous press conferences in 14 cities announcing the start of the grassroots campaign for “fire-safe” cigarettes, endorsed by the American Burn Association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. The Mother Jones article: “Cigarettes and Sofas: How the Tobacco Lobby Keeps the Home Fires Burning” (June/July, 1979), which provided a detailed investigation of the history and feasibility of fire-safe cigarettes, was distributed to the media at each press conference.
Four days after the Trauma Foundation launched the campaign, which generated national news coverage, a fire occurred in Westwood, MA, in Congressman Joe Moakley’s district. The cigarette-caused fire killed five children and their parents, prompting Moakley to introduce a fire-safe cigarettes bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to prevent future cigarette fire tragedies. In 1980, Senator Alan Cranston, joined by Senator John Heinz in 1984, introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate.
In the 1980s, concurrent with the Congressional effort, state fire-safe cigarettes bills were introduced. In 1980, Oregon introduced a bill mandating fire-safe cigarettes. In 1982, five more states introduced bills: California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Michigan, and Illinois. In 1983, New York, Maryland and Virginia introduced bills. Since then, Rhode Island, Maine, Alabama, Hawaii, Alaska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, New Hampshire, Vermont, Texas, Colorado, Georgia ,and Kansas have introduced bills.
State legislative efforts, though never successful until 2000, created political pressure for Congress to address the issue of preventing cigarette-caused fires. In August of 1984, President Reagan signed Congressman Moakley’s Cigarette Safety Act, funding a three-year, $3 million research effort, overseen by the Congressionally mandated Technical Study Group (TSG). Its 15 members represented federal agencies (5); cigarette manufacturers (4): furniture manufacturers’ organizations (2); fire service organizations (2); and medical groups (2). The TSG issued a unanimously endorsed “Report to Congress” in 1987, stating that cigarettes with a “reduced ignition propensity” (fire-safe cigarettes) were “technically and economically feasible.”
In 1990, President Bush signed Congressman Moakley’s Fire Safe Cigarette Act, funding a three-year research program to develop a “test method” for a fire safety performance standard for cigarettes. In 1993, the Technical Advisory Group (same members as the TSG) overseeing the research reported to Congress that such a “test method” had been developed.
Congressman Moakley introduced his last Fire Safe Cigarette Act in 1999. It would have required the establishment of a cigarette fire safety standard and direct the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to implement this standard within 18 months of the date of enactment. This bill has stalled in Congress.
After Congressman Moakley’s death, Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Brownback (R-KS) and Congressmen Markey (D-MA) and King (R-NY) reintroduced Moakley’s Fire Safe Cigarette Act. Campaign organizers realized that the political climate in Washington had become more hostile to cigarette regulation, so they re-invigorated the campaign state by state. In August 2000, New York became the first state to enact a law, using the “test method” developed by the federal study. The New York law went into effect on June 28, 2004. This was the first time cigarette manufacturing had been regulated in the history of the world. Canada became the first country to require FSC using the same “test method” when their law became effective in October 1, 2005.
Fire-safe cigarette legislation has been passed in all states. To maintain regulatory uniformity, all states and countries are using the “model” regulatory bill based on the New York fire-safe cigarettes law. With identical fire safety regulations for cigarettes in all states and countries, cigarette manufacturers can voluntarily produce fire-safe cigarettes worldwide. Until then, legislative campaigns mandating fire-safe cigarettes will continue.