TALLAHASSEE — Smokers in 12 states will be lighting — and relighting — fire-safe cigarettes designed to go out when they’re not puffed as the result of new laws that go into effect Friday.
The states are among the last to require that all cigarettes meet standards first implemented by New York six years ago. The states with laws going on the books this week are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Wyoming is the only state that hasn’t passed such a law, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes. Fire-safe cigarette laws will also take effect in Mississippi, Ohio and South Dakota by the first week of 2011. Canada has a similar law.
“Cigarettes are a major cause of fires, especially in residential occupancies,” said Jim Goodloe, chief of fire prevention for the Florida Division of State Fire Marshal. Florida passed its law in 2008.
The coalition says cigarettes cause 700 to 900 fire deaths and about 3,000 injuries every year in the United States — many of them among nonsmokers.
The coalition’s members include fire prevention, consumer and health organizations.
The fire-safe standards require cigarettes to burn out 75 percent of the time when not in active use.
“There’s tiny, ultra-thin bands of paper that are literally layered on the white part of the cigarette and when the lit end of the product crosses one of those bands it acts like a speed bump and it slows down the burn rate,” said David Sutton, spokesman for Altria Group Inc., parent of Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company.
Most tobacco companies have supported the move to fire-safe cigarettes.
Sutton said his company has been working with states to make sure all adopt the New York standards. The maker of Marlboro, Chesterfield, L&M and Virginia Slims plans to sell nothing but fire-safe cigarettes by Feb. 2 regardless of state laws.
Most states allow businesses to sell conventional cigarettes past the effective dates of their laws until existing stocks are exhausted. Fire-safe packs are generally marked with “FSC,” for Fire Standards Compliant.
Some smokers claim the new cigarettes cause headaches and nausea and contain dangerous chemicals. Cigarettes have already been linked to cancer.
David Jaromnak, a smoker from Reading, Pa., has created an organization called Citizens Against Fire Safe Cigarettes to seek repeal of the new laws.
He has been gathering petition signatures through a Web site but did not respond to an e-mailed request for an interview.
Sutton denied that fire-safe cigarettes contain any new materials or present an additional danger to smokers.
“It’s the same tobacco blend,” he said.
“It’s the same kind of paper — it just has rings on it. It’s the same filter. There’s no additional adhesives or any other materials added to the product.”
Sutton, though, cautioned that the new cigarettes are just less of a fire hazard, not fireproof.
“We urge consumers to be diligent in terms of how they extinguish the product and treat them like traditional cigarettes,” he said. “Anything that is on fire or lit can cause a fire.”