Wisconsin May Insist On Fire-safe Cigarettes

This story was written by Richie Rathsack, Badger Herald
A bill aiming to make only certified fire-safe cigarettes available for sale in Wisconsin was introduced into the Senate Monday.

Fire-safe cigarettes are made with a special wrapping that contains rings allowing less oxygen to get to the burning material. These rings force the cigarette to extinguish itself if a smoker is not puffing on it.

Josh Wescott, spokesperson for Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said the legislation should not meet much resistance because self-extinguishing cigarettes are not very different than normal cigarettes.

"It's just a different type of paper they are wrapped in," Wescott said. "There should be no impact to the smokers except for smoking a safer cigarette -- if there is such a thing."

Wisconsin currently has no laws pertaining to cigarettes and fire safety.

Cigarette-related fires are the leading cause of home fire fatalities in the United States, killing 700 to 900 people annually, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes website.

According to CFSC, 25 percent of the victims of fires started by cigarettes are not smokers. Of these nonsmoker deaths, 34 percent are the children of smokers, 25 percent are neighbors or friends, 14 percent are spouses or partners and 13 percent are parents.

The standard for a cigarette to be certified fire-safe "requires that not more than 25 percent of the cigarettes tested may exhibit full-length burns," according to the proposed bill.

If passed, the bill would hold cigarette manufacturers responsible for having their products meet burning guidelines if they wish to sell in Wisconsin.

The cigarette manufacturers, Wescott said, would also be required to present a copy of the safety certification to any vendors who sell the cigarettes and print it on the cigarette packaging.

Wescott said he expects the legislation to pass, as he does not see much opposition to the bill.

"Every day without it is a day we could have reduced the risk of fires," Wescott said. "Hopefully it gets passed in this session. It's pretty non-confrontational."

Connie Olson, executive director of Community Action for Tobacco-Free Living, has expressed support for the legislation, but added she thinks the name is misleading.

"I think it should be established statewide, although I would change the wording from fire-safe to self-extinguishing because no cigarette is safe," Olson said.

Tobacco companies are also supportive of the bill, Wescott said, as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company announced Oct. 31 it would start producing only fire-safe cigarettes.

If the bill passes, Wescott said there would be a process of adjustment to filter out the old cigarettes, rather than an abrupt change to the new ones.

"There will be a reasonable phasing period," Wescott said. "The Department of Commerce will oversee the process so that retailers don't have to just throw their cigarettes in the garbage."

University of Wisconsin business professor Rodney Stevenson said fire-safe cigarettes will probably not have a drastic effect on tobacco companies.

"It might be just a reasonable service in place for safety, kind of like exit signs are," Stevenson said.

Stevenson added the R.J Reynolds Tobacco Company changed their view on fire-safe cigarettes because of the increase in the number of smoking bans being passed by legislators around the country.

"I think that they are fairly astute at watching where the politics are going," Stevenson said. "It would behoove the cigarette companies to be ahead of the curve instead of being dragged kicking and screaming."

The bill sets noncompliance penalties for people or manufacturers ranging from $10,000 per violation for selling regular cigarettes wolesale, to either $500 or $1,000 for retail sales depending on the total number of sales.

Wescott said he thinks there will be few violations of the bill if passed and added "there is no difference in the cigarettes, so there is no incentive."

Similar legislation has been passed in 22 other states, including neighboring Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company-manufacturers of Camel Century, Doral, Salem, Winston and various other cigarette brands-did not return calls as of press time.

© 2007 Badger Herald via U-WIRE