Fire-Safe Cigarettes Hit New York

On Monday, June 28, 2004, New York State will be the first state that requires tobacco companies to sell the new "fire-safe" cigarettes, which is denoted by a long black bar above the bar code on this pack of Marlboro Lights which was photographed on Friday, June 25, 2004, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The "fire-safe" cigarettes will self-extinguish if they're not puffed on regularly.
Smokers who linger between drags on their cigarette may need to be a tad more careful in New York. Their smokes will self-extinguish if not puffed on regularly.

Beginning Monday, New York becomes the first state to require new "fire-safe" cigarettes to be sold. The law is meant to cut down on the number of smoking-related fires.

For the past several months, companies have rushed to meet the deadline to supply vendors with the new cigarettes, which are wrapped in special ultra-thin banded paper that essentially inhibits burning.

But manufacturers warn that though the new cigarettes go out on their own, they're not fireproof and careless handling could still lead to fires.

"It's up to individual smokers to make sure that they do not let these products lull them into a false sense of security," said Ellen Matthews, a spokeswoman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation's No. 2 cigarette maker.

The lower-ignition paper does nothing to curtail the toxicity of cigarettes or reduce the health effects of smoking. About 900 Americans die each year and another 2,500 are hurt by fires started by cigarettes left unattended.

Customers can see if their pack of cigarettes comply with the new law by checking for a tiny mark next to the bar code — an asterisk, a dash or a diamond.

Philip Morris USA, the nation's No. 1 cigarette maker, has marketed its Merit brand nationally with the banded paper since 2000, but it had to tweak it to meet New York's standards, said Brendan McCormick, a Philip Morris spokesman.

Lorillard Tobacco Co., maker of Newport and Kent, has been selling the lower-ignition cigarettes in the New York market since March.

Last week, anti-smoking advocates sent a letter to the major cigarette makers, urging them to use New York's standards to produce and distribute fire-safe cigarettes to other states. Tobacco companies have said there's no immediate plan to roll out the new cigarettes nationally.

New York retailers have not noticed any change in sales or excessive complaints from smokers, except for some who are annoyed when their cigarettes go out automatically.

"The change has been uneventful. We're hopeful that there won't be any need or cause for customers to seek out other sources of cigarettes," said James Calvin, president of the New York state Association of Convenience Stores, a non-profit group representing 5,000 mini-marts and corner stores.

But if smokers head to neighboring states or buy regular packs of cigarettes through mail-order or the Internet, there's not much New York can do.

"If people go outside, that's a little bit beyond our control," said Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for New York's State Department, which helped draft the fire-safety law.

Most popular brands will be available in New York with the lower-ignition paper, but some tobacco companies have abandoned converting lower-end brands due to costs.

Nikki Kane, 21, a smoker from Albany, applauded the change. A few years ago, she escaped a house fire that started when someone left a cigarette burning.

"They're good because if you leave a cigarette burning or you fall asleep, you don't have to worry about the mattress going up in flames," she said.

By Alicia Chang