Tobacco Giants Fiddle While Homes Burn

Thursday 28 June 2007

ASH news release:  Embargo: 00:01 Thursday 28th `June 2007

Tobacco Giants Fiddle While Homes Burn

Over 3,500 people in the UK have been killed by avoidable house fires according to research published by fire prevention campaigners today. (1)Analysing official Government figures for the past 20 years the authors conclude that many of the tragedies could have been prevented if cigarette manufacturers had made tiny adjustments to make their products safer.


Smouldering cigarettes cause over 130 deaths and 1,600 injuries in the UK every year. The cost of treating fire burns from fires started by cigarettes to the NHS is as much as £1500 per day for between 6 and 12 weeks, sometimes more, for the worst injured.  The injuries are frequently severe and often life-changing, and involve, in some cases, many weeks or months of painful treatment including skin-grafting surgery, followed often by disability or disfigurement or both.


The report comes as the European Commission’s General Product Safety

Directive Regulatory Committee considers a UK backed proposal to make RIP compulsory across Europe.  It also marks 20 years since the US Congress received a unanimous report from its Technical Safety Group which concluded reduced ignition propensity (RIP) were “technically and economically feasible”.  The cigarettes are already standard in Canada and much of the US where 45% of the population is covered by RIP legislation. Australia and South Africa are also well advanced in plans to introduce a similar standard. The minor adjustment costs just pennies per pack. (2)


When the measure was introduced in New York in 2004 the effectiveness was reduced as smokers brought cigarettes across the state line from neighbouring states with lower taxes and safety standards. UK campaigners believe that Europe-wide legislation is the only way to make sure the problem doesn’t occur in the UK.


Martin Dockrell, Policy Manger at campaign group ASH commented,

“The real scandal is that the Tobacco industry has known how to keep their customers safe and have simply chosen not to. All the big brands have firesafer versions in production. They could make them available in the UK if they wanted to but they choose to lobby against them instead. They have refused to provide UK smokers with the protection they provide in other countries”.


Dr Keith Judkins, who chairs the British Burn Association’s prevention committee said,

“The worst thing is that those in our society who are already most disadvantaged are also most likely to be victims of smoking-related fires: people in poor quality accommodation; those with disability; people with chronic illness.  We are not just talking about smokers, but those who live with them and that includes small children and older people who may be less able to escape a burning building. The death toll is high, and survivors suffer permanent disability and disfigurement. Making RIP cigarettes compulsory would make a real difference”.




([1]) The report drew on data from the Department of Communities & Local Government  Accidental dwelling fires and related casualties by source of ignition and country, UK, 1985-2005 Ref: 200701485-05

([1]) Connolly G. N. et al., The Effect of the New York State Cigarette Fire Safety Standard on Ignition Propensity, Smoke Toxicity and the Consumer Market, 14 Tobacco Control 321, 321 (2005).

(3) The RIP coalition website can be found at

(4 The British Burns Association Website can be found at

(5)The international standard requires only that cigarettes go out, not how they should be made. One of the easiest ways to meet the standard is to add two wafer thin bands of paper, or “speed bumps” which choke off the cigarette if there is nobody actively puffing on them.  A study in the US found that smokers could taste no difference but were aware only that their cigarettes tended to go out more quickly.

Contact: Martin Dockrell  020 7739 5902 (w) 079 49 089 636 (m) ISDN available