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Lower fire death rates signal positive impact of national fire-safe cigarette initiative

A new report by NFPA shows decrease in the number of deaths on account of smoking materials used in a rampant manner in US
A new report by NFPA shows decrease
in number of smoking-material
related fire deaths in US

NFPA announced second lowest level of U.S. smoking-material fire deaths in nearly 30 years.

A new report released by the non-profit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows that the number of smoking-material related fire deaths in the U.S. dropped below 700 in 2008, representing the second lowest level since 1980. While several factors can be credited for the latest decline, NFPA points to new fire-safe cigarette legislation as an important component of the decrease.

A total of 114,800 smoking-material fires resulted in an estimated 680 deaths, 1,520 injuries and $737 billion in direct property damage in 2008. (Smoking materials are defined as lighted tobacco products, but do not include matches or lighters.)

Smoking-material fires have been down by 66% from 1980 to 2008. NFPA’s report (PDF, 257 KB) says this long-term trend is due to fewer people smoking, and to standards and regulations that now require mattresses and upholstered furniture be made with materials more resistant to cigarette ignition, among other factors. However, the most recent drop in smoking-material fire fatalities can also be attributed to “fire-safe” cigarette legislation, which mandates that cigarettes be produced with reduced ignition strength, and carry a lower propensity for burning when left unattended. NFPA launched the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes in 2006 with the goal of getting fire-safe cigarettes in every state across the country. Prior to the formation of the Coalition, two states had passed legislation. As of February, all 50 states had passed similar bills. The laws are now in effect in 47 states. 

According to Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications, nearly all home smoking-material fires are unintentional, and are most often caused by some human error in control or disposal.

NFPA points to new fire-safe cigarette legislation as an important component of the decrease

“Widespread use of safeguards like fire-safe cigarettes, which can minimize or altogether prevent the damage incurred by smoking-material related mishaps, serves as a critical step for further reducing the nation’s fire problem,” said Carli.

In 2003, New York was the first state to adopt a fire-safe cigarette requirement. By the end of 2008, a total of 18 states across the country implemented the law. From 2003 to 2008, when the percentage of smokers covered by the law rose from 0% to 21-29%, the number of smoking-material structure fires fell 14%, and the number of civilian deaths dropped 16%. When the law is fully effective (in late 2012), simple projections show that the fire reduction rate should reach 50-70%, and the civilian fire death rate should drop by 56-77% (both relative to levels in 2003, the last year before the fire-safe cigarette law was effective in any state.)

“We are thrilled to see the intended consequences of fire-safe cigarette legislation,” said Carli. “It is clear that the initiative has already made an impact on public safety and that further progress will be achieved over the next few years."

Other notable findings from NFPA’s report show: 

  • Most of the fires caused by smoking materials and related losses occur in homes, including apartments.
  • Roughly equal shares of deaths resulting from smoking-material fires were in bedrooms (36%) as in living rooms, family rooms and dens (33%).
  • One out of four fatal victims of smoking-material fires is not the smoker whose cigarette started the fire. The risk of dying in a home fire caused by smoking materials rises with age.

Smoking should not be allowed in a home where medical oxygen is used

As with virtually all types of fires, there are many steps people can take to prevent smoking-material fires. NFPA and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) worked collaboratively to develop the following safety tips, which primarily focus on safe storage and disposal of cigarettes: 

  • If you smoke, smoke outside.
  • Whenever you smoke, use deep, wide, sturdy ashtrays, which should be set on something solid and hard to ignite, like an end-table.
  • Before you throw out butts and ashes, make sure they are out. Dowsing in water or sand is the best way to do that.
  • Check under furniture cushions and in other places people smoke for cigarette butts that may have fallen out of sight.
  • To prevent a cigarette fire, you have to be alert. You won’t be if you’re sleepy, have been drinking, or have taken medicine or other drugs.
  • Smoking should not be allowed in a home where medical oxygen is used.

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