January 29, 2007
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You asked for background information on fire-safe cigarettes.
Fire-safe cigarettes are designed to be self-extinguishing. They have the same characteristics and cost the same as other cigarettes, but they stop burning when left unattended, thereby reducing the chance of starting a fire.
In 2000, New York became the first state to enact fire-safe cigarette legislation. The law, which took effect in 2004, requires cigarettes sold or distributed in the state to be tested and meet a minimum performance standard. The major U.S. cigarette manufacturers have designed fire-safe cigarettes to meet the New York standard. But the industry, which has long opposed requirements for fire-safe cigarette standards on a variety or grounds, cautions that careless handling of the cigarettes may still lead to fires.
A 2005 Harvard School of Public Health study of the effect of New York's law found that (1) ordinary cigarettes will burn to the end 99% of the time compared to 10% for fire-safe cigarettes; (2) fire-safe cigarettes are not more expensive or less acceptable to smokers than ordinary cigarettes; (3) toxicity levels of fire-safe and ordinary cigarettes are not substantially different; and (4) the introduction of fire-safe cigarettes did not result in a decline in cigarette sales and purchases, indicating that consumers found them acceptable.
Five other states, including three in New England, and Canada have enacted fire-safe cigarette legislation, using New York's law as a standard. And legislation is pending in Connecticut before the Public Safety Committee (Proposed Bill 703, An Act Mandating Fire Safe Cigarettes). Last year, Phillip Morris indicated that it supports a national standard partly to avoid “a patchwork of inconsistent and conflicting state regulations that would be an undue burden on interstate commerce.”
A broad-based coalition of members, coordinated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), has been leading an effort to get (1) states to enact fire-safe cigarette legislation and (2) manufacturers to produce fire-safe cigarettes for sale throughout the country.
A fire-safe cigarette (sometimes referred as a reduced ignition-propensity or RIP cigarette) is designed to be self-extinguishing and thus is less likely to burn when left unattended. Basically, the cigarette is wrapped with ultra thin bands of paper “that cut the flow of oxygen when a smoker stops puffing.” When this happens, the cigarette stops burning, unlike regular cigarettes, which will burn all the way to the end.
A 1984 study group established by Congress under the 1984 Cigarette Safety Act reported that it was technically and economically feasible to develop a fire-safe cigarette. And in 1990, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), under the 1990 Fire-Safe Cigarette Act, developed a standard for testing the ignition propensity of cigarettes. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has established fire-safe cigarette performance standards (ASTM E2187) based on the NIST standard (ASTM E2187, Standard Test Method for Measuring the Ignition Strength of Cigarettes). Cigarettes that meet the standard are less likely to ignite certain types of fabrics (e.g., bedding and upholstered material), according to ASTM.
New York Law
In 2000, New York became the first state to enact fire-safe cigarette legislation (N.Y. Executive Law § 156C). The law, which took effect in 2004, prohibits the sale or distribution of cigarettes in New York that do not meet an established fire-safe performance standard in law. It (1) establishes civil penalties for selling or distributing cigarettes that are not fire-safe or falsely labeled as fire-safe and (2) appropriates money raised from imposing civil penalties to the Office of Prevention and Control for fire safety and prevention programs.
The major U.S. cigarette manufacturers have designed fire-safe cigarettes to meet the New York standard.
Study of the New York Law. A 2005 Harvard School of Public Health report on the effect of the New York law “on ignition propensity, smoke toxicity, and the consumer market” found that the:
introduction of RIP cigarettes has had no effect on consumer purchases of cigarettes in New York. . . . New York has experienced no decline in cigarette sales on excise tax payments since the standard went into effect, indicating that the New York RIP cigarettes are acceptable to consumers. Cigarette brands sold in Albany, New York cost no more than in Boston. . . .Based on the New York experience, prior industry objections to RIP cigarettes are unfounded. There is no valid reason why cigarette manufacturers should not sell [them] nationwide (The Effect of the New York State Cigarette Fire Safety Standard on Ignition Propensity, Smoke Toxicity, and the Consumer Market, January 24, 2005, p.1).
A copy of the report is available at: http://repositories.cdlib.org/tc/surveys/Cigarettes2005/
Legislation in Other States and Canada
Five other states and Canada have passed fire-safe cigarette laws based on the New York model. The states and the effective dates of the laws are as follows: California, January 1, 2007 (Cal. Health and Safety Code §§ 14950-14960); Illinois, January 1, 2008 (Public Act 094-0775); Massachusetts, January 1, 2008 (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 64C §§ 2A-2F); New Hampshire, October 1, 2007 (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 339-F1 et. seq.); and Vermont, May, 1, 2006 (VT. Stat. Ann. Tit. 20 § 2756 et. seq.).
Attempts to Enact National Standard
In 2002, a proposal to enact a national standard died in committee. The 2002 Joseph Moakley Fire Safe Memorial Act would have:
1. established a federal fire-safe cigarette standard and allowed for enactment of an enhanced standard in the future,
2. given the Consumer Safety Product Commission regulatory authority over cigarettes for the sole purpose of enforcing compliance, and
3. allowed states to enact more stringent standards (HR 4607 and S 2317).
Similar bills to create a national standard died in committee in 2004 and 2005 (The Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2004, HR 4155 and S 2643; The Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2005, HR 1850 and S 389).
THE COALITION FOR FIRE SAFE CIGARETTES V. PHILLIP MORRIS
Cigarettes are a leading cause of residential fire deaths in the United States, and fire-safe cigarettes are a “proven, practical and effective way” to significantly reduce cigarette fires and related deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association (http://www.nfpa.org/). The tobacco industry has long opposed requirements for fire-safe cigarette standards. Initially, the industry contended that it was not technically or commercially feasible to produce fire-safe cigarettes. It has also argued that:
1. fire-safe cigarettes are more toxic than regular cigarettes,
2. consumers will not like the cigarettes, and
3. the cigarettes will not reduce cigarette fires and associated deaths and costs if people are lulled into a false sense of security and handle the cigarettes carelessly.
NFPA has organized a broad-based coalition of interested parties to lead the drive to get (1) tobacco manufacturers to produce and sell only cigarettes that adhere to an established cigarette fire-safety performance standard and (2) ensure that the standards are required in every state (www.firesafecigarettes.org). The coalition consists of fire service members, consumer and disability rights advocates, medical and health practitioners, among others.
In 2006, NFPA wrote Phillip Morris, encouraging the company to “take a leadership position to enhance public safety by announcing that the company will produce and sell only fire-safe cigarettes in the United States.” The company responded that Phillip Morris (PM USA):
supports enactment of a uniform, national standard for [RIP cigarettes] that would preempt all state and local [RIP] regulations, requirements or prohibitions in the field of cigarette ignition propensity - thereby resulting in one standard applicable to all cigarettes sold in the United States, regardless of the size or location of the manufacturer. Federal legislation would also eliminate the possibility of a patchwork of inconsistent and conflicting state regulations that would be an undue burden on interstate commerce, and would lessen the opportunity for adult smokers to obtain non-compliant cigarettes. Any such federal [RIP] standard should not increase the well-established health risks of smoking, bearing in mind that all cigarettes cause diseases in smokers, whether they are reduced ignition propensity cigarettes or not. It also should not affect the commercial acceptability of the cigarette to adult smokers.
More specifically, PM USA supports federal [RIP] legislation that establishes a performance standard that is equivalent to the performance standard adopted in New York, Vermont and California; designates the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as responsible for implementation and enforcement; and preempts state and local [RIP] regulations, requirements or prohibitions in the field of cigarette ignition propensity. At the federal level, the CPSC has been developing expertise on cigarette ignition propensity for many years and should be designated by Congress as the agency mandated to implement a national standard. It already has the expertise to perform the scientific work necessary to successfully implement a [RIP] standard nationwide.
It is important to note, as you have recognized previously, that it is common knowledge that anything that burns, if handled carelessly, can cause a fire. There is no "fire-safe" cigarette. [RIP] cigarettes should be handled and disposed of properly, just like any cigarette. Therefore, we were concerned to read the press release of March 16, 2006 from the Coalition for Fire Safe Cigarettes, of which NFPA is the coordinating group, where it refers to reduced ignition propensity cigarettes as "fire-safe" and makes no mention of the common-sense notion that anything that burns should be handled and disposed of carefully. Smokers should not think that a reduced ignition propensity cigarette is "fire-safe" and therefore handle it with less care (March 28 2006 letter from Michael Farriss to James Shannon).
The letter and coalition response are available at: http://www.firesafecigarettes.org/itemDetail.asp?categoryID=91&itemID=1370&URL=Letter%. Additional correspondence and responses from R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard Tobacco Company are available at http://www.firesafecigarettes.org/categoryList.asp?categoryID=91&URL=Letter%20to%20tobacco%20companies.
For information on RJ Reynolds' position, visit the company's website at http://www.rjrt.com/legal/statefiresafety.asp.
For additional information on the issue, visit the coalition's web site at: http://firesafecigarettes.org/categoryList.asp?categoryID=36&URL=Research/Reports.