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California Becomes Third State to Enact Law to Reduce Cigarette-Caused Fires;Tobacco Companies Should Utilize Life-Saving Technology Nationwide

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 07, 2005

Washington, DC — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today made California a leader in reducing cigarette-caused fires by signing into law legislation requiring that all cigarettes sold in the state utilize self-extinguishing technology that reduces the risk they will ignite fires when discarded or left unattended. California becomes the third state after New York and Vermont to enact such a law.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s signing of this bill should lead the tobacco companies to meet the same fire-safety standard in all cigarettes they sell in every state and indeed worldwide. The tobacco companies know how to make cigarettes that are self-extinguishing and less likely to cause fires. It is indefensible for them not to use this life-saving technology in all the cigarettes they sell. All Americans, not just those in New York, Vermont and now California, deserve greater protection from the danger of cigarette-caused fires. If the tobacco companies fail to act voluntarily, other states should act promptly to protect their citizens.

Cigarettes are the leading cause of fire death in the nation. In 2001 alone, there were 31,200 such fires nationwide, resulting in 830 deaths, thousands of serious injuries and $386 million in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Many of the victims of cigarette fires are non-smokers, including children, family members, neighbors and firefighters.

The California law will require that all cigarettes sold in the state meet the same fire-safety standard as those sold in New York, which implemented its pioneering law on June 28, 2004. The cigarettes now being sold in New York contain bands of paper that act as speed bumps and cause lit cigarettes to self-extinguish when left unattended. Vermont’s law will take effect in May 2006. This month, Canada became the first country to implement a nationwide cigarette fire-safety standard.

There is already strong evidence from New York that the state’s law is reducing cigarette-caused fires and saving lives. The number of people killed by cigarette-related fires in New York fell by about a third during the first year of the new law, according to the New York Office of Fire Prevention and Control. In addition, a January 2005 study released by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the self-extinguishing cigarettes required in New York are significantly less likely to ignite fires when left unattended compared with the same brands sold in other states. The study also found that the self-extinguishing cigarettes are accepted by consumers, eliminating another of the empty excuses the tobacco companies give for failing to use self-extinguishing technology in all the cigarettes they sell.

We applaud Assemblyman Paul Koretz for his foresight and leadership in introducing this life-saving legislation. We also applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for signing this important legislation into law.