Gainesville Fire Marshall Jody Marshall and others in north Texas are keeping an eye on a law that would make fire-safe cigarettes mandatory in Texas.

The “fire-safe” cigarette has a reduced propensity to burn when left unattended, according to the Coalition for Fire Safe Cigarettes.

Henry calls the legislation “one of the most pro-active approaches in saving lives and property in Texas” and said the law passed both the Texas House of Representatives and the state Senate.

It is now on the governor’s desk, he noted, and he said he sees no reason to believe the legislation will not become law.

Fire-safe cigarettes contain a type of technology that wraps the cigarette in two or three bands of less porous paper that act as “speed bumps” and slow the burning of a cigarette.

Apparently, the design changes do not affect the cigarettes’ appearance or the manner in which a cigarette burns when it is smoked.

The cigarettes are designed so that if a cigarette falls into furniture or onto a carpet it burns only until it reaches one of the speed bump bans and extinguishes itself.

The coalition estimates that between 700 and 900 people die each year due to fires ignited by smoldering cigarettes.

The coalition points out that smoking-related products are the No. 1 cause of fire deaths in the U.S.

Supporters of fire-safe cigarette legislation point out that national safety standards for cigarettes would be the best bet, but so far attempts to introduce such measures have run into a snag of gridlock fueled by cigarette manufacturers and their supporters.

So for now, the best bet seems to be to work for individual state laws that make fire-safe cigarettes mandatory, according to the site.

New York led the way with the first fire-safe cigarette law in 2004. Other states such as California and Vermont, modeled their legislation after the New York law.

Henry said cigarette-ignited fires are definitely the cause of some local blazes.

“I don’t have any hard statistics on that with me today,” Henry said. The Gainesville fire marshall was on his way to North Texas Medical Center to conduct some safety inspections of the facility early Wednesday afternoon when contacted for comments about fire-safe cigarette legislation.

Henry — who said he has been with the Gainesville fire department for 28 years and has been fire marshall for the last six years, is also second vice president of the Texas Fire Marshall’s Association.

“As fire marshalls, we’re concerned with life and property safety... Anytime there is something that is developed to make things safer for the citizens, then we’re all about that,” he said.

The cigarettes are not fool-proof, Henry said, but they are an improvement.

“When a cigarette gets into a couch or into bedding, it does not instantly ignite. They smolder, and they’ll smolder sometimes for hours before reaching ignition temperature, and that’s what starts the fire,” he explained.

He said many smoking-related fires happen while people are asleep in their homes and “obviously, working smoke detectors are very important at that point also.”

“The research with these cigarettes shows that if a cigarette does go into a couch and goes out within a few seconds and doesn’t continue to burn, it’s a lot safer. But it’s not a 100 percent cure for being careless with cigarettes,” Henry said.

He also said the fire-safe cigarette is probably not as likely to start roadside grass fires — a situation that arose often last summer during a prolonged draught in the area.

Other states that have passed fire-safe cigarette legislation include Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Utah, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Jersey.

The law is also in effect in all of Canada, according to the Coalition for fire-safe Cigarettes.

Texas is one of approximately 14 states that have legislation pending for the safer cigarettes.

Many Texas fire fighters associations including the Texas Fire Chief’s Association and an arson investigator’s association support the legislation, Henry said.

Henry said, at first, lobbyists for the tobacco industry fought the legislation in Texas, but their opposition seemed to diminish as the law gained momentum.

“Even they, at the end, were not fighting us on it,” he said.

There is no doubt the fire-safe cigarette will increase the cost of manufacturing cigarettes.

Brendan McCormick, a spokesman for Richmond, Va.,-based Philip Morris, told a CBS News reporter that supplying banded paper for all New York-bound cigarettes will cost Philip Morris several million dollars, which the company will absorb.

Cigarettes in New York are already among the most expensive in the nation, averaging $5.66 per 20-cigarette pack, according to a January report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

How much the new, reportedly safer cigarettes will cost Texas smokers is uncertain.

On the Net:

For more information on fire-safe cigarettes visit www.firesafecigarettes.org.

Reporter Delania Trigg may be

contacted at dtrigg@ntin.net

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