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Tobacco Companies Put Profits Ahead of Lives In Fighting to Delay New York’s Fire Safety Standard for Cigarettes

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
February 15, 2003

Washington, D.C. — At the request of the tobacco industry, New York's new fire safety law for cigarettes has been delayed. The comment period on the proposed regulations to implement the law was scheduled to end today, but the tobacco industry insisted upon a 60-day extension and likely will now engage in further delaying tactics, such as dumping lengthy comments regarding the regulations. This delay will result in more lives lost to cigarette-caused fires. The tobacco industry's efforts to delay and defeat the New York law are unconscionable as internal industry documents show the industry for decades has known how to manufacture a cigarette that reduces the risk of fires. If the tobacco companies really have changed, they should immediately cease all efforts to delay implementation of the New York law and start saving lives by manufacturing cigarettes that reduce the risk of fires.

Cigarettes are the leading cause of fire death in the United States accounting for an estimated 30 percent of all fire deaths. Annual cigarette-caused fires result in about 1,000 deaths, 3,000 serious injuries and an estimated $4 billion in property losses and health care expenses nationally. Of these victims, more than 100 are children and non-smokers. And in New York State alone, from 1997-2001, nearly 200 New Yorkers lost their lives due to cigarette caused fires.

Two years ago, New York made history by enacting the first ever fire safety legislation for cigarettes. These standards are the first time that any jurisdiction has regulated cigarettes for health or safety reasons, and sets an important precedent for further regulatory initiatives. A strong New York law will benefit every state because it will be easier for the tobacco companies to change the way they manufacture cigarettes for the whole country than just those sold in New York. These regulations are based on sound science and will have an immediate and lasting impact on the lives of many in New York.

New York is a role model for the rest of the nation on fire safe cigarettes. For twenty years the cigarette companies successfully opposed federal legislation to establish an effective cigarette fire safety standard. Now that New York has taken action, the companies are lobbying for federal legislation that would block the New York law by preempting all the states. The tobacco industry is pulling out all the stops and claiming that the Federal government may soon adopt fire safe cigarette legislation and therefore state action is not needed. Congress has failed to act for 20 years, so federal legislation is far from certain.

Refusing to acknowledge their role in failing to manufacture cigarettes that can reduce the risk of fires, the tobacco companies are trying once again to shift blame to others. The companies are seeking to place the responsibility to create fire safe products on the manufacturers of mattresses, furniture and sleepwear instead of focusing on how they could reduce the harm caused by their own products.

The State of New York should reject all industry efforts to weaken its law and regulations and act swiftly to force the cigarette companies to manufacture cigarettes that comply with the standards outlined in the proposed rule. Anything short of this will result in the needless deaths of many New Yorkers, including the fire fighters that put their lives at risk to fight these preventable yet devastating fires.