City fire official backs 'fire-safe' cigarette bill

March 09, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - A rash of fires in Hagerstown, one of them fatal and all caused by smoldering cigarettes, prompted Assistant Fire Marshal Richard L. Miller to support a bill requiring cigarettes sold in Maryland to be "fire-safe" by January 2007.

Miller said five fires from Jan. 26 to Feb. 24 left one person dead, two injured and caused nearly $600,000 in damages. One of the injured remained hospitalized, he said. All of that, he said, was caused by 90 cents worth of cigarettes.

Sponsored by Del. Brian Moe, D-Anne Arundel/Prince George's, himself a 25-year firefighter, the bill would require cigarettes sold in Maryland to meet the same standards in place in California, New York, Vermont and throughout Canada. Similar legislation is pending in at least 10 states, Moe said.

"Fire-safe cigarettes look the same as other cigarettes," he said, but if a smoker is not inhaling, "they will go out, to avoid accidental ignition.


"This is not an anti-smoking bill," he said. "It's about saving lives."

Moe said these cigarettes contain a thicker band of paper that acts as a "speed bump," allowing the cigarette to extinguish.

He said such products had been tested since the late 1950s, but that he did not know why the tobacco industry had not gone forward with manufacturing the cigarettes on its own.

Moe said similar legislation had been sponsored last year, but legislators decided to see how it would work in other states. He said in those states, the tobacco industry "sat down and tried to work some things out" with state legislators.

Miller said 16 families were displaced by the Hagerstown fires. The fatal fire was caused by a cigarette igniting a mattress Feb. 20 on South Prospect Street. Two days later, a fire on Fairground Avenue that caused a serious injury was caused by a cigarette igniting a sofa. Two days after that, a fire on Kenly Avenue that caused $500,000 in damage and displaced 10 families was caused by a discarded cigarette. Two smaller fires also were caused by negligent smoking, he said.

Moe said he hopes action by states will encourage Congress to mandate fire-safe cigarettes nationwide.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, is one of several co-sponsors of the bill.

House bill 1300

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