Feds consider fire-safe cigarettes
ROSS MAROWITS, Canadian Press
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
MONTREAL -- Weeks after scoring a legal victory limiting tobacco advertising, the federal government is looking to order manufacturers to produce cigarettes less likely to spark deadly house fires.
Health Canada has proposed regulatory changes aimed at altering the way cigarettes burn, which could reduce the number of fire-related deaths in Canada.
New standards outlined in a December consultation paper could force tobacco companies to manufacture cigarettes that would serve as an antidote to careless behaviour such as falling asleep with a cigarette or discarding it irresponsibly.
They could be designed to burn at lower temperatures or self-extinguish within minutes if a puff is not taken.
Carol Imbrogno wonders what has taken so long.
Her mother, Ann Babony, 67, died in 1994 from smoke inhalation after a cigarette ignited her upholstered chair.
"I think they should have done it a long time ago," Imbrogno said from Toronto. "It's the government that benefits from all the taxes that they put on the cigarettes anyway so they don't seem to move too quickly on any kind of legislation.
An Ontario coroner's jury studying Babony's death recommended in 1995 that the federal government require all cigarettes be fire-safe and adhere to government standards.
Imbrogno said she believes her mother's death and class-action lawsuits filed against tobacco companies have finally motivated the government to act.
"Every death from cigarettes creates a platform for the advocates in order to bring this forward and keep pushing and pushing and pushing with the government," she said.
Regulation has been considered in the United States for decades. New York will become the first state to require fire-safe cigarettes as of July 2003. New Zealand is also considering a law.
The Canadian effort stems from the 2001 Federal Tobacco Control Strategy to reduce the harm from cigarettes, said Mathew Cook, manager of Health Canada's regulation and compliance for the tobacco control program.
"We feel it is important and it is something that we can do."
Smoking materials are the leading cause of fire-related deaths in Canada.
The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has estimated 14,030 fires were started by smokers' materials, including cigarettes, between 1995 and 1999. The fires killed 356 people, injured 1,615 and cost more than $200 million in property damage.
Among the most vulnerable are children, seniors and the disabled. Fatalities have declined by 30 per cent, however, from the widespread use of smoke alarms, fire-retardant bedding and upholstery and the reduction in the number of smokers, experts said.
Firefighters and fire investigators would support new regulations but Cook cautioned they could be more than two years away, if they are pursued at all.
The deadline for submissions to Health Canada concerning possible regulation of cigarettes is Jan. 31.
"We're not sure if regulation is going to be the best alternative but we'd like to start the process to explore the options and see what kind of feedback is out there and what kind of will there is to actually do something about that."
The tobacco industry said it isn't categorically opposed to changes related to fire safety.
Phillip Morris Inc., the largest tobacco company in the U.S., has supported legislative efforts to require self-extinguishing cigarettes. Two years ago, the company began making its Merit brand of self-extinguishing cigarettes.
"Our position is not a no way never, ever, ever kind of position," said Christina Dona, spokesman for Canada's Imperial Tobacco. "It's one where we want to work co-operatively with the government to find solutions to the concerns and issues that have been raised."
Among the industry's concerns are the testing methodology, changes to the taste of cigarettes, potential impetus for smuggling, impact on roll-your-own products and affect on toxicity levels.
David Sweanor, head of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, dismissed industry objections as "totally scientifically unfounded."
"My hope is this is the foot in the door to try to do much more," Sweanor said of the government's effort to regulate tobacco product itself after addressing advertising and packing.
"It starts to open minds - including among regulators - to the idea that we really can regulate delivery systems."
© Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press