Miss. considers requiring ‘fire safe’ cigarettes

Published 11:25 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mississippi might join more than three dozen other states in requiring “fire-safe” cigarettes that extinguish themselves if left unattended.

The cigarettes are made with two or three bands of less-porous paper that will stop burning if the smoker is not inhaling, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes, a national group that’s pushing states to require the safety feature.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney is supporting the proposed law in Mississippi, saying he wants to decrease the number of fires caused by people falling asleep while smoking. He said furniture fires can quickly become lethal.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Two breaths of foam-rubber smoke and you’re dead,” said Chaney, who doubles as the state fire marshal. “You don’t wake up if you’re asleep.”

A bill to require the sale of only “fire-safe” cigarettes has passed both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature, but has been held for the possibility of more discussion in the House.

During a debate last week, Democratic Rep. Frances Fredericks of Gulfport said if the proposal becomes law as proposed in July 2010, Mississippi retailers would be able to sell all the cigarettes they already have in stock at the time.

Fredericks also assured a worried colleague that he wouldn’t have to throw away half-smoked cigarettes that stop burning.

“You can still get your butt and relight it,” Fredericks said, generating chuckles among her House colleagues.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia already have laws requiring “fire-safe” cigarettes, according to the national coalition.

In another 15 states, governors have signed bills that become law sometime in 2009 or 2010. Louisiana’s law takes effect Aug. 31, and Tennessee’s takes effect Jan. 1.

Legislation is proposed this year in Mississippi and 10 other states, including neighboring Alabama and Arkansas.

Chaney said Mississippi could receive a grant of about $375,000 from the tobacco industry if it enacts a law requiring “fire-safe” cigarettes. He said the money could be used to buy fire detectors or smoke detectors to distribute to the needy. Or, he said it could be used for fire-prevention education programs.

Chaney said 69 people died in fires in Mississippi in 2008. He said 17 people have died in fires so far in 2009.

The Mississippi House has made changes to the original Senate bill that would mandate the sale of only “fire-safe” cigarettes. The two chambers would have to reconcile the differences before sending a bill to Gov. Haley Barbour.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said the governor has not taken a position on the bill.

Lorraine Carli, spokeswoman for the National Fire Protection Association, said about 3,000 people die in home fires in the U.S. each year. She said cigarettes are involved in about 700 to 900 of those fires.

The National Fire Protection Association is one of several groups that make up the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes.

The bill is Senate Bill 2249.

On the Net:

Coalition for Fire Safe Cigarettes: http://www.firesafecigarettes.org