Jan. 28, 2005 Boston, MA -- Smoldering cigarettes are the leading cause of fire deaths in the United States causing more than 800 deaths per year. The technology to create safer cigarettes exists. To meet a New York safety standard that went into effect June 28th, 2004, the major US cigarette manufacturers have altered the design of cigarette brands sold in that state. While the companies are selling reduced ignition propensity (RIP) versions of their cigarette brands in New York, the same brands sold in different states appear not to have been altered to be less fire-prone.
Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), funded by the American Legacy Foundation, compared the physical properties of cigarettes sold in New York with cigarettes of the same brands sold in Massachusetts and California.
The researchers found:
* That while not perfectly self-extinguishing, New York cigarettes were far less likely to burn to the end than cigarettes of the same brands in California and Massachusetts. Ten percent of a sample of five major cigarette brands sold in New York had a 'full burn' compared to 99.8 percent of the California and Massachusetts cigarettes tested.
* Reduced ignition was apparently achieved through banding of the cigarette paper.
* The majority of toxic compounds (14) were not different between the smoke of NY and MA brands that were tested. Five compounds were slightly higher in NY brands. While this is of interest, there is no evidence that the small increases affect the already highly toxic nature of cigarette smoke.
* Reviewing cigarette tax data for the past six months, the RIP cigarettes appeared to have no effect on sales of cigarettes in New York, indicating consumer acceptance.
* Based on the New York experience, prior industry objections to RIP cigarettes are unfounded, the report concludes. There is no valid reason why cigarette manufacturers should not sell RIP cigarettes nationwide.
"Our research found that Massachusetts and California cigarettes were far more likely to ignite fires than the same brands sold in New York," said Greg N. Connolly, from the Division of Public Health Practice at HSPH and lead author of the study. "New York smokers have accepted fire safer brands, and they were found to be no more costly or toxic than those sold in the other states. All states should adopt the New York standard to prevent needless death and suffering from fires caused by burning cigarettes."
Connolly continued: "One goal of making 'fire safer' cigarettes available nationally is to help reduce the number of smoking-related fires and deaths from those fires. Once the New York standard has been in place for a year, more research will be possible to measure the actual reductions of fires and fatalities."
"Fires started by lighted tobacco products are the leading cause of unintentional fire deaths in the United States," said Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation. "In 2001 alone, there were 31,200 such fires resulting in 830 deaths - 60 of them children - not to mention over $386 million in direct property damage. Ironically, the capacity to save lives exists in New York but currently remains unavailable to the rest of the nation. I believe that the tobacco industry has the responsibility to make every cigarette they sell 'fire safer', if they cannot indeed make them 'fire proof.'" Click here for a pdf of the peer-reviewed report "Fire Safer" Cigarettes: The Effect of the New York State Cigarette Fire Safety Standard on Ignition Propensity, Smoke Toxicity and the Consumer Market. The report was written by Gregory N. Connolly of the Division of Public Health Practice at HSPH and colleagues.
Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA), a symposium speaker, has called upon tobacco manufacturers to sell RIP cigarettes nationwide. He has authored legislation to create a federal standard for 'fire safer' cigarettes.
"The Harvard School of Public Health and the American Legacy Foundation deserve tremendous credit for dispelling the smoke screen of myths and misinformation that has surrounded fire safe cigarettes," said Rep. Markey. "As this important new study demonstrates, New York cigarettes deliver fire safety benefits without affecting sales. Consumers who choose to smoke should receive protection from accidental fires caused by lit cigarettes whether they light up in Massachusetts, Montana or anywhere in between. This study will be an indispensable tool to combat discredited industry arguments against the establishment of a national fire safe standard."
Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Colorado and other states are considering legislation that would require the New York standard in those states.
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