News

Cigarette law should reduce fires

Every year, homes are destroyed and lives changed when a cigarette left burning starts a fire.

Washington is now among the states that have passed a bill designed to protect its residents from these incidents.

Senate Bill 5642, also known as the fire-safe cigarette bill, was passed in late March and will go into effect in early August 2009. The bill passed in the state House unanimously and in the state Senate with 47 votes in favor and one dissenting.

Come next year, cigarettes will undergo a design change. Less dense tobacco will be used in their making. They will feature a smaller diameter and filter tip. The paper used to make the contraptions will be thickened and nitrates will be removed. This will slow the burn life. The changes are expected to decrease the chance of a blaze caused by cigarettes.

“This was our number one goal for this year and we are pleased the Legislature approved this bill,” South King Fire and Rescue Chief Al Church said. “Now, cigarette-related fires and deaths will not only decrease in our community, but across the state of Washington.”

In 2002, 65 people died from fire caused by a cigarette in Washington state, South King Fire and Rescue spokeswoman Kirstie Weaver said.

In Federal Way and Des Moines, especially during the summer months, cigarettes cause beauty bark and brush fires, she said.

In the past two years, 197 bark fires in the Federal Way area have been attributed to smoldering cigarettes, Weaver said. The altered cigarettes could better protect citizens and free up firefighters’ time and resources.

“(The fire-safe cigarette bill) is another tool to keep our community safe,” she said.

Nationwide, 700 to 900 people perish annually due to a fire ignited by a cigarette, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Once the bill is effective, retailers or persons knowingly selling cigarettes not compliant with the law can face civil penalties of fines not to exceed $10,000 for a first offense — and $25,000 for subsequent offenses, according to the bill.

Washington is the 23rd state to adopt the fire-safe cigarette bill, SKFR spokeswoman Kendra Kay said. Oregon, California, Montana, Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois and Vermont are currently enacting the law, according to the NFPA Web site, www.nfpa.org. Twenty-four other states, including Washington, have passed the law; six more filed legislation for the law this year, according to the Web site.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com.

Check it out:

To learn more about fire and its causes visit the NFPA Web site at www.nfpa.org. To learn more about Senate Bill 5642 visit the Washington State Legislature Web site at http://apps.leg.wa.gov.

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