37 States Have Fire-Safe Cigarette Law; Is Nebraska Next?

January 16, 2009

Nebraska has fallen out of the mainstream when it comes to smoking-related laws, but that could change.

Thirty-seven states have passed laws requiring that all cigarettes sold in their states be fire-safe. Nebraska is not among them, but the state could join that list if a bill introduced to the Legislature this week is approved.

The paper on fire-safe cigarettes is thicker in two separate spots so they will go out if not puffed when they burn to these areas. The idea is to prevent fires caused when cigarettes are left unattended.

“If you’re sitting on the couch and fall asleep and a cigarette falls out of your hand, it will go out instead of starting a fire,” said Sen. Arnie Stuthman of Platte Center, who introduced the bill (LB198).

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, smoking was the biggest cause of fire-related deaths in the country from 2002-04, the most recent years for which data are available. On average, 630 deaths were caused by fires started by smoking during each of those years.

Support for the bill this year comes from an unlikely source — a tobacco lobbyist.

Lobbyist James Moylan, who represents Reynolds American, the company formerly known as RJ Reynolds, said that since so many other states have passed such laws his client told him “we might as well get it done” in Nebraska.

“Tobacco companies figured it’s probably going to get going,” Moylan said of the fire-safe cigarette laws, “so they geared up.”

Should the law pass in Nebraska, there probably wouldn’t be a significant change in the brands of cigarettes available to smokers. David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, said the company makes all of its brands available in the fire-safe form in states that have such laws.

He said the company prefers that there be a national standard instead of state laws, but that in the absence of a federal guideline, the company supports state-level legislation.

Once the first law lit up in New York in 2004, similar measures burned across the country.

Laws mandating stores only sell cigarettes that are slow-burning and fire-safe went into effect in five states on New Year’s Day. Delaware, Iowa, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas joined 17 other states in mandating the fire-safe cigarettes.

Fifteen more states have laws that will take effect this year or next, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes.

According to the coalition, states that have already implemented fire-safe cigarette laws are New York, Vermont, California, Oregon, New Hampshire, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Utah, Alaska, Rhode Island and Minnesota, as well as the District of Columbia.

Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, Washington, Louisiana, Hawaii and Wisconsin have laws that take effect this year, according to the coalition’s Web site.

Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and South Carolina have laws that will take effect in 2010.


On the Net:

Nebraska Legislature: http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/

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