Effectiveness of fire-safe cigarette laws still unclear

(Reuters Health) - Laws requiring cigarettes to be made with a fire-retarding design may have reduced deaths from cigarette-related fires in the U.S. but the evidence is weak and inconsistent, researchers say.

The study found no evidence that so-called fire-safe cigarettes reduced the number of fires overall or fires started by cigarettes in the states where they were mandated, leaving the jury still out on whether these laws are a good way to protect people, the authors report in Injury Prevention.

“Smoking-related fires are one of the most common causes of death due to fires in the United States, and fire safe cigarettes are an interesting and innovative way to combat this problem,” lead author Dr. Carl Bonander told Reuters Health in an email.

“The enforcement of fire safety standards on cigarettes seems to be commonplace in many parts of the world today, but the evidence regarding the effects on fire mortality seemed quite ambiguous,” said Bonander, a researcher with the Department of Environmental and Life Sciences at Karlstad University in Sweden.

Bonander and colleagues used data from several sources to examine the implementation of fire-safe cigarette laws in the U.S. By 2012, all 50 states had some sort of fire safe cigarette laws in place.

“Generally, the laws mandate that cigarettes must pass a test where the cigarette is lit and placed on a filter paper substrate. Conventional cigarettes will usually burn their full length in this test, while fire safe (or more formally, reduced ignition propensity) cigarettes will self-extinguish before that,” Bonander said.

To comply with the fire safety standards, a brand must extinguish more than 75 percent of the time under repeated testing, said Bonander.

In real-world conditions, however, there is evidence that these fire-safe cigarettes can ignite sofas or mattresses just as easily as any other cigarette, the study team notes.

Still, the researchers found some evidence of a reduction in deaths from fires caused by cigarettes after the laws were enacted. But when they adjusted for other factors and trends that might influence the number of deaths, the effect of fire-safe cigarette laws “disappeared,” the authors write.

“We find that the evidence regarding the effects of fire safe cigarette laws on fire mortality and cigarette-related fires is rather weak, which could indicate that they are not working as intended. It is not entirely clear whether this is due to the construction of the cigarettes themselves, or due to other circumstances surrounding the legislation,” Bonander said.

Lorraine Carli, vice president of outreach and advocacy for the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Massachusetts, agrees that the study seems to conclude it is not possible to definitively state one way or another whether the fire-safe cigarettes are effective.

“Fire safe cigarettes are intended to reduce the likelihood of fires on upholstered furniture and bedding,” Carli told Reuters Health in an email. “Some studies indicate they are effective in these situations. There has been limited research so we will look to future studies to continue to chart impact.”

More evidence over time may yield more definitive results and some research has shown some positive results, said Carli, who was not involved in the study.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 610 Americans died due to cigarette-related fires in 2010, which was an all-time low since 1980. However, the number of smokers has gone down since the eighties and fire resistance standards have also gotten stricter over the years, the organization notes on its website (

SOURCE: Injury Prevention, online June 19, 2017.