New York adopts regulations on 'fire-safe' cigarettes

Friday, January 2, 2004

ALBANY, N.Y. -- To prevent house fires set by careless smokers, New York state has adopted the nation's first rules mandating that cigarettes sold in the state must be rolled with lower-ignition paper.

The so-called "fire-safe" cigarettes will extinguish by themselves if not puffed on, and advocates say they will prevent many of the fires now triggered by smokers who leave cigarettes unattended.

The regulations, first unveiled in December 2002 and later modified, were adopted Wednesday by the Department of State. The new rules will be implemented this summer.

"This could be the beginning of a global standard for cigarettes," said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "If New York goes ahead, it will drive a national debate because tobacco companies are not going to make one set of cigarettes for New York and one for the rest of the U.S. And if the U.S. sets standards, those will be standards for the entire globe."

The New York regulations call for cigarettes to be wrapped in banded paper. The bands essentially serve as speed bumps to inhibit the burning down of paper on cigarettes that are not being puffed on.

All cigarette brands offered for sale in New York must be tested to determine if they self-extinguish at least 75 percent of the time. Only those brands that meet the states performance standard will be certified and permitted to be sold in New York. Those cigarettes must be marketed in New York starting June 28.

Manufacturers who falsely certify that their cigarettes have met the standard face fines of up to $10,000. Retailers who sell uncertified brands face fines of up to $500 per sale for sales under 1,000 cigarettes and up to $1,000 per sale for sales over 1,000 cigarettes.

Department of State officials said they responded to the concerns of retailers by allowing them to sell off existing inventories of uncertified cigarettes after June 28. No stockpiling of uncertified cigarettes will be allowed, state officials said.

Every year approximately 900 Americans die, 2,500 are injured and $400 million in damage is caused by fires started by cigarettes, according to the American Burn Association and the federal government.

The lower-ignition paper does nothing to reduce the toxicity of cigarettes to smokers or to reduce the health effects of smoking.

Self-extinguishing cigarettes have become more common in recent years.

Philip Morris began marketing cigarettes with banded paper under its Merit brand in 2000, and several other states recently have considered self-extinguishing cigarette laws, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California and Minnesota.

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