New Jersey would become one of a handful of states to require that cigarettes sold in-state have extra fire protections built in, under a measure being considered in the Legislature.
The proposal — modeled after similar laws in New York, Vermont, California, Illinois and a newly enacted statute in New Hampshire — is built on the premise that such cigarettes are less likely to cause fires if left unattended by smokers. The proposal is scheduled to be heard by an Assembly panel on June 12.
“This is good legislation, in my opinion,” said Assemblyman Jack Conners, a Burlington Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill. “It’s going to save lives. In talking to my firemen friends, it isn’t just the careless smoker who gets burned or dies, it’s family members and firemen who can die in these fires.”
The Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes estimates that 800 people die in fires started by careless smoking each year and argues on its Web site that requiring safer cigarettes would save countless lives and property. In New Jersey, the Division of Fire Safety attributed 881 residential fires and five fatalities to blazes started by cigarettes in 2005.
Quick-extinguishing cigarettes are made with paper that contains bands to slow burning tobacco. If left unattended, the burning tobacco will reach a band and go out.
RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., the North Carolina-based manufacturer of such brands as Camel, Winston and Kool, has been fighting the legislation in states that propose it.
“We agree with the goal of reducing fires by careless handling of cigarettes,” company spokesman David Howard said. “This kind of legislation does absolutely nothing to address that.”
He said calling such cigarettes “fire-safe” presents smokers with a false sense of security since even the quick-extinguishing variety burn and can start fires if mishandled.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway, another Burlington County Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill, said the legislation should be enacted federally, but the powerful tobacco lobby has kept it from being considered on a national level.
Conaway said the legislation on the table in New Jersey represents a progression in safety standards, just like changes in fire resistance made mattresses and upholstery products safer.
Tony Correia, director of the Burlington Township Fire Department, has no trouble throwing his support behind the state measure in absence of a federal cigarette safety law. He remembers the 2004 fire that took the life of a colleague, New Brunswick Deputy Fire Chief James D’Heron, and three recent fires in Burlington County that authorities attribute to careless smoking.
“Is this going to stop every instance of these fires? No,” said Conner. “But this is going to prevent a lot of them.”
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