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Harvard Study Finds Self-Extinguishing Cigarettes Required in New York Reduce Fire Risk And Are Accepted By Consumers

January 24, 2005

Washington, DC — A study released today by the Harvard School of Public Health finds that self-extinguishing cigarettes currently required and sold only in the state of New York are significantly less likely to ignite fires when left unattended compared with the same brands sold in other states. The study also finds that the self-extinguishing cigarettes, which have been required since New York implemented the world’s first cigarette fire safety law on June 28, 2004, have not affected cigarette sales. This indicates that these cigarettes are accepted by consumers and eliminates another of the empty excuses the tobacco companies give for failing to use self-extinguishing technology in all the cigarettes they sell.

Now that there is no doubt that the tobacco companies can make and sell cigarettes that are less likely to cause house fires, it is morally and legally indefensible for them not to apply this life-saving technology to all cigarettes they sell in the United States and indeed worldwide. The study also dramatically drives home the need for every state to require the tobacco industry to sell only self-extinguishing cigarettes. The research has been done on this issue. It’s indefensible that the tobacco industry is failing to produce and sell self-extinguishing cigarettes outside of New York, or for the states to let them get away with it.

The new study demonstrates once again that the tobacco companies have not truly reformed. They continue to show no concern for the health and safety of the American public even when they have technology that can reduce some of the many harms their products cause. Children and other family members who live in homes with smokers outside of New York are at greater risk of dying from a cigarette-caused fire because the tobacco companies have irresponsibly chosen not to make the cigarettes they sell in those states self-extinguishing. If the tobacco companies continue to sell cigarettes outside of New York that do not utilize self-extinguishing technology, they should be held accountable in the courts for all the lives lost, bodies maimed and property damaged as a result of cigarette-caused fires.

The Harvard study compared five popular brands of cigarettes sold in New York to the same brands sold in Massachusetts and California. It found that, for the five brands studied, the average number of lit cigarettes that burned through the entire tobacco column when not being smoked was only 10 percent for cigarettes sold in New York compared to 99.8 percent for the cigarettes sold in California and Massachusetts. This is a dramatic finding that indicates cigarettes sold in New York are significantly less likely to ignite fires compared to cigarettes sold in other states.

Cigarettes are the leading cause of fire death in the United States, accounting for an estimated 30 percent of all fire deaths. According to the Harvard study, in 2001, 31,200 cigarette-caused fires occurred, resulting in 830 deaths, injuries to 1,770 persons, and $386 million in direct property damage, plus significant additional costs in health care bills, lost productivity and emergency services.