Cigarettes are hazardous to one’s health in more ways than one. One may not believe it, but more people die from smoking-related fires than they do from any other fire-related cause. Tobacco is designed to stay alight, a factor that plays a major role in causing accidental fires. Smoking involves fire and that is how the smoking process starts. So we can draw a clear and direct link between smoking and fires-no question about that. Cigarettes are the number one cause of fire fatalities in the United States. One in every four deaths caused by fires is directly attributed to cigarettes. Even after substantial declines-mainly attributed to declining numbers of smokers, about a thousand lives are still lost annually through cigarettes caused fires. Over a thousand people also retain injuries, some of them very seriously. Most fire victims are usually in houses when the fire starts and most have their chances to get out limited. The National Fire Prevention Association also states that smoking is the leading cause of fires that kill people aged 65 and over.1 The risk of death or injury from fire increases considerably as age goes up. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in its 1998 report said that losses attributed to fires affect all classes, groups, and races but the cases of these problems differ among the various groupings with African Americans being many and disproportionate. A lot of people have had their property burned and destroyed and their lives lost or negatively affected by fires caused by cigarettes. According to medical journal statistical data, fire investigators said that fifty-five percent of fires are caused by cigarettes and that most deaths are caused by carbon monoxide inhalation. They also indicated that at least 40% of those who died from house fires started by cigarettes are the people who lit the cigarette. Another disheartening revelation indicates that it is not likely that fire incidences can be substantially reduced by making smokers more careful. This perhaps means that the only way of reducing cases of cigarettes related fires is through reducing the number of smokers.2
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One of the measures introduced to curb cigarette-related fires is through the introduction of fire-safe cigarettes, special brands of cigarettes that are designed to extinguish more sooner and whose intention is to prevent unintended fires. The cigarettes are said self extinguish by at least 70% compared to normal cigarettes. A cigarette takes considerable time to ignite and by reducing the burning time a major achievement could be made in preventing or combating such fires. They have though attracted controversy since it is argued that no lit cigarette can truly be fire safe prompting some to argue that what they have is reduced ignition propensity.3 Others also cite that for a fire-safe cigarette to stay lit inhalation has to be intensified, burning the cigarette too fast and in the process increasing the fire hazard. This puts into question the very logic that initiated the manufacture of these cigarettes in the first place.4 There is also the question as to whether reducing the amount of time the cigarette takes to extinguish automatically reduces the possibility of fires taking place. Smokers also complain that this kind of cigarette has an unpleasant taste and increases irritation.
To ultimately reduce fire incidences caused by fires the government and all the parties affected by this issue should dedicate themselves to conduct public education especially on cigarette safety and on legislation seeking changes in the cigarette itself.5 More and more states should enact fire-safe cigarette laws to see if the country can significantly reduce cigarette-related fires. Awareness should also be created not only among the general populace but more among the leadership of all stakeholders. Efforts should also be stepped up to educate young people about the hazards of smoking to have fewer young people joining the smokers’ club. This will reduce the number of smokers and eventually cut the number of fire incidences attributed to cigarettes.
- De Francesco S, Liability for Cigarette-related Fire Death and Injury. Trial Lawyer’s Quarterly. 1986 12-13
- Gunja M, Wayne, The case for fire-safe cigarettes made through industry documents. Tobacco Control 2002 54-62
- Lander, Meta. Cigarette Causing Fires, the Danger They Pose.
- McGuire, A. “The Case of the Fire Safe Cigarette: the Synergism between State and Federal Legislation,” University of Washington Press, London, 1992 11-12
- McGuire A. Fires, Cigarettes and Advocacy. Law, Medicine and Health Care. 1989 100