Jul. 12 2002
Washington, DC — Every year over 900 Americans, including roughly 100 children, die in fires caused by cigarettes. Many more suffer horrible injuries in fires caused by cigarettes. Today, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other leading public health groups sent letters to every Member of Congress urging them to approve good legislation that would prevent many of these fires and to reject weak legislation designed to protect tobacco industry profits instead of the safety of smokers and their families.
There is a simple solution to this problem that has been endorsed by both the public health community and the firefighting community: H.R. 4607 introduced by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. James Hansen (R-UT) and the companion bill in the Senate, S. 2317 introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS). This legislation is known as the Joe Moakley Memorial Bill in memory of the late Rep. Moakley who fought for this legislation ever since a family in his district perished in a cigarette-caused fire in their home.
While Philip Morris has paid lip service to supporting this legislation, they have now asked their allies to introduce weak legislation in the House, H.R. 4981 and H.R. 5059, that would preempt New York from implementing strong standards for fire safe cigarettes as it is scheduled to do in January 2003. H.R. 4981 and H.R. 5059, introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), would also prevent future action by other states that are considering fire-safe legislation and includes other unacceptable language.
Under the Markey/Hansen bill, changes in the fire-resistant standards would have to "enhance fire safety" while one of the Stearns/Towns bills, H.R. 4981, would lower the standard to allow modifications for reasons unrelated to fire safety. The other Stearns/Towns bill, H.R. 5059, would require, among other things, that changes to the standard be reasonable, practicable and appropriate for each brand of cigarettes. This would invite endless litigation over what these ambiguous terms mean and effectively delay the implementation of the fire-safety standard. The Stearns-Towns bills would protect the tobacco companies while compromising the safety of American families.
Once again, Philip Morris is duplicitously attempting to get credit for supporting strong legislation while actively working to undermine its effectiveness. The introduction of the Stearns-Towns legislation is testimony to the tobacco industry's pervasive influence in Congress. The co-sponsors of the Stearns-Towns legislation received an average of $16,700 in campaign contributions from the tobacco industry from January 1, 1997 to June 21, 2002 compared to an average of $83 given to the cosponsors of the Markey/Hansen legislation.
We urge Congress to support the good legislation introduced by Reps. Markey and Hansen and reject any efforts to weaken it by preempting stronger state laws. One approach will protect families from unnecessary fires; the other will protect the tobacco industry's profits.
To view the letter sent to all members of the House of Representatives go to http://tobaccofreekids.org/letters/firesafety.pdf