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"Fire-safer" cigarette sparks Swiss interest

Going up in smoke Keystone

Switzerland could follow in the footsteps of a European initiative in requiring companies to sell exclusively self-extinguishing cigarettes from 2011.

This content was published on August 7, 2008 - 08:34

The European Commission announced plans this week for new cigarette fire safety standards to cut down on the number of related fires and deaths.

Insurers and tobacco manufacturers welcomed the move and the Swiss Federal Health Office said such a measure was in their interests.

"Should the European Union allow only self-extinguishing cigarettes, it is quite possible that Switzerland will follow suit," said Health Office spokesman Michael Anderegg.

The cigarette paper has several "speed bump" cellulose strips that slow down burning. If the cigarette is left unattended, burning tobacco reaches one of these strips and dies out. Manufacturers developed models to meet legal safer cigarette requirements.

New York state was first to enforce the so-called "fire-safer" cigarettes in 2003, with another 35 US states and Canada following suit.

"Burning cigarettes are the leading cause of home fire fatalities every year. Burning cigarettes are also responsible for many forest fires," a spokesman for the EC told swissinfo.

"Fire-safer cigarettes would save hundreds of lives every year and reduce the number of fire incidents."

Smoking in bed

Data from 14 EU member states and Iceland and Norway from 2005 to 2007 shows that cigarette-related incidents caused 11,000 fires every year, with 520 deaths and 1,600 injuries.

In Switzerland, around 500 fires and SFr20 million ($19 million) in damage is caused every year by cigarettes and other smoker products. Up to 15 people die every year after falling asleep while smoking in bed.

"This fire-prevention measure is therefore in the interests of the health authorities and fire-prevention organisations," said Health Office spokeswoman Karine Begey.

"Such a measure is possible but Switzerland would have to adapt the law on tobacco products."

The Health Office said it would be watching the development of the European initiative with interest.

Supporters of the self-extinguishing cigarettes say that although all cigarettes have the potential to ignite fires, "fire-safe" technology enormously reduces the risk by cutting the burning time before most cigarettes are able to ignite items like furniture.

Innovation

The Swiss Insurance Association welcomed such innovations, saying they could help prevent damage.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris told swissinfo it would support the introduction of reduced cigarette ignition propensity standards in the EU provided they were consistent with those introduced in New York and Canada, applied to all lit-end tobacco products and manufacturers had enough time to make any necessary product design changes.

But François Thoenen, spokesman at the company's Swiss affiliate, warned: "Consumers should understand that those changes do not make cigarettes 'fire-safe' or even necessarily 'fire-safer'. Anything that burns, if handled carelessly, can cause a fire, including cigarettes manufactured to meet the 'New York standards'."

EU member state representatives in the General Product Safety Committee endorsed plans for a new cigarette fire safety standard in November 2007.

The European Standardisation Committee will now work on drawing up a standard that would apply throughout the EU. It has started preparatory work and held talks with the EC on how it would be devised. The technicalities will be tackled after the summer.

Once complete, it will be published in the Official Journal and will apply throughout the EU, requiring all cigarettes sold in the EU to meet this level of safety.

swissinfo, Jessica Dacey

Safer cigarettes?

A "fire-safe" cigarette has a lower propensity to burn when left unattended.

Manufacturers usually wrap the cigarettes with three thin bands of less-porous paper that act as "speed bumps" to slow down a burning cigarette. If the cigarette is left alone, the burning tobacco reaches one of these strips and self-extinguishes.

Fire-safe cigarettes meet an established cigarette fire safety performance standard, based on the standard test method for measuring the ignition strength of cigarettes.

A fire-safe cigarette cuts off the burning time before most cigarettes are able to ignite bedding material.

New York was the first US state to require that cigarettes sold and manufactured in the state be fire-safe. In Canada, fire-safe cigarettes are mandated nationwide using the New York standard.

Regulations apply to manufactured cigarettes, not to hand-rolled tobacco or cigars.

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Smoking related deaths

Switzerland, Hungary, Poland and Ireland are the highest consumers of tobacco products per head in Europe, according to the Non Smoking Switzerland organisation.

Just under a third of 14- to 65-year-olds in Switzerland smoke. Around 20% smoke on a daily basis.

In 2005 the average consumption among daily smokers was around 16 cigarettes a day, a figure that had hardly changed in the previous six years. In 2006, 32% of men smoked and 26% of women were smokers.

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