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Schwarzenegger Should Sign Bill to Reduce Risk of Cigarette- Caused Fires, Says Executive Director of Trauma Foundation


SAN FRANCISO, Sept. 13 -- Following is a memorandum from Andrew McGuire, executive director of the Trauma Foundation, San Francisco General Hospital, to California reporters, editorial writers and columnists, regarding cigarette-caused fires:

Gov. Schwarzenegger Should Sign Bill to Reduce Risk of Cigarette-Caused Fires

Every day in California and across the country, headlines tell the tragic story of lives lost, people maimed and property destroyed by cigarette-caused fires. Many of the victims are non-smokers, including children, family members, neighbors and firefighters. What these stories usually leave out, however, is that the tobacco companies have the technology to manufacture cigarettes that significantly reduce the risk of cigarette-caused fires. The good news is that the California Assembly and Senate have both passed legislation to require that this technology be used in all cigarettes sold in the state. Gov. Schwarzenegger should sign this important measure into law to save lives and protect property.

Recent headlines from throughout California tell the tragic story of cigarette-caused fires:

From Sacramento on Aug. 7: “Man killed in south Sacramento apartment fire”

From Hayward on April 28: “Fatal fire blamed on smoking in bed”

From Contra Costa on April 29: “Woman dies in fire set by man smoking”

From Oakland on April 19: “Cigarette may be cause of deadly apartment fire”

From Willits on April 6: “Smoking probably cause in elderly man’s death”

From Arroyo Grande on March 15: “Disabled man dies in Arroyo fire”

There are numerous stories like these every day across the country. In fact, smoldering cigarettes are the leading cause of fire deaths in the United States. In 2001 alone, there were 31,200 such fires nationwide, resulting in 830 deaths and $386 million in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Perhaps the most tragic part of this story is that the tobacco companies have the means to prevent most of these cigarette-caused fires. Since June 28, 2004, a New York law has required that all cigarettes sold in the state meet a “reduced ignition propensity” standard that significantly reduces the risk that these cigarettes will continue to smolder and cause fires when discarded or left unattended. These cigarettes contain bands of paper that act as speed bumps and cause lit cigarettes to self-extinguish when left unattended. Canada will become the first “fire-safe cigarette” country when a national regulation goes into effect October 2005. Vermont recently became the second state to require the sale of reduced ignition cigarettes, with that law effective May 2006.

A January 2005 study released by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the self-extinguishing cigarettes currently required and sold only 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.

It is truly unconscionable that, despite having the technology to reduce the risk of cigarette-caused fires, tobacco companies have failed to use this technology in cigarettes sold outside of New York. Aren’t the citizens and firefighters of California and other states deserving of the same protection from cigarette-caused fires as the citizens and firefighters of New York?

The bill would require all cigarettes sold in California to meet the same fire-safety standard as those sold in New York. It is important that California utilize the same strong standard as New York because the tobacco companies have proven that they can manufacture cigarettes that meet this standard, thereby eliminating any excuse for delay or failure in complying with this standard. In addition, if the tobacco companies are forced to comply with this standard in two of the largest states, California and New York, they will face increased pressure to utilize this life-saving technology in all the cigarettes they sell in the United States and around the world.

We hope you will choose to report and editorialize about this important issue. If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Nicole Yazdanseta at 202-296-5469. Thank you for your attention to our views.


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