CPSC Backs First Step Toward Mandatory Standard for Cigarette Lighters

April 12, 2005

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted unanimously (2-0) recently, to move forward with the first of three steps in developing a new mandatory safety standard for cigarette lighters.

The vote to approve an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which is open for public comment, sets the Commission on a path to consider a way to prevent most mechanical malfunctions of lighters and reduce the fire hazard associated with some lighters.

CPSC already has a mandatory standard for child-resistant cigarette lighters that addresses the hazard of children under 5 years of age starting fires with lighters. That standard for child-resistance applies to imported as well as domestically-manufactured disposable and novelty lighters.

“Fires are a leading cause of consumer product related deaths, and reducing residential fire deaths is one of our top priorities,” said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. “By developing fire safety standards for mattresses, upholstered furniture, and cigarette lighters, CPSC can help save many lives while maintaining reasonable cost to consumers and manufacturers.”

The Commission could pursue one of three options during the rulemaking process: 1) a mandatory standard based either on the current voluntary “Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Lighters” (ASTM F-400) or on other performance requirements; 2) a mandatory labeling rule; or 3) a decision to defer to the voluntary standard.

There are nearly one billion cigarette lighters sold in the U.S. annually. More than 700 million lighters are imported each year, with about 400 million coming from China.

From 1997 through 2002, CPSC estimated that more than 3,000 people went to hospital emergency rooms for injuries resulting from malfunctioning lighters. Most of these injuries involved thermal burns to the face, hands, and fingers. For the same time period, CPSC received 256 incident reports related to cigarette lighter malfunctions and failures; 65 percent of these cigarette lighter failures resulted in fires, leading to 3 deaths and 6 serious injuries.

The voluntary standard for lighters addresses the risk of fire, death, and injury associated with mechanical malfunctions of lighters. However, it is unclear how many lighters sold in the U.S. actually comply with the voluntary standard.

Fire deaths associated with children playing with lighters dropped dramatically since the mandatory standard for child-resistance became effective in July 1994 – from 230 in 1994 to 130 in 1998.

Children under age 5 accounted for 170 of the deaths in 1994 and 40 of the deaths in 1998. In 1994, there were 11,100 residential fires associated with children playing with lighters. By 1998, that number declined to 6,100 fires.

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