UK Government warned: Do not miss chance to cut cigarette fires.

Wednesday 07 June 2006

ASH news release: Embargo: 00:01hrs Wednesday 7th June 2006

Tobacco control and safety campaigners are demanding that the UK Government supports European action to force tobacco manufacturers to produce fire-safer (“Reduced Ignition Propensity”) cigarettes.

RIP cigarettes could save dozens of lives every year. In 2004, 114 deaths and 1,260 serious injuries were caused across the UK in 3,500 fires started by smoking materials [1]. Examples include the tragic recent case of a toddler in Scotland who had to have his toes amputated after a fire started by smoking materials caused burns over almost half his body [2]. Research published by the UK Government suggests that two thirds of fires started by cigarettes could be prevented if the cigarettes were modified so that they went out quickly when not drawn on – for example if dropped or left alight by accident [3].

Standards for RIP cigarettes could be introduced in the EU under the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD), and there is support from the European Commission for this move. The issue is due to be discussed at the next meeting of the EU GPSD regulatory committee in Brussels on June 13th and14th.

A cut in smoking-related fires would help to reduce social exclusion and health inequalities, one of the Government’s overall objectives, as well as helping the Communities and Local Government Department (DCLG) meet its Public Service Agreement target of reducing the number of accidental fire-related deaths in the home by 20% by 2010. Such standards have already been introduced in New York and Canada [4] and are under discussion in other US states and Australia.

To achieve RIP standards in the UK will require joined up Government: the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is the UK representative on the EU committee, the DCLG is responsible for meeting the Government’s PSA target on reducing fire-related deaths, and the Department of Health (DH) is responsible for regulation of tobacco. But currently it is not clear whether the UK Government will support action on this issue. A decision is due later this week.

David Taylor MP (Labour: NW Leicestershire), Chair of the All-Party Group on Smoking and Health is to introduce a Ten Minute Rule Bill on the issue in the Commons on Wednesday 7th June.

Deborah Arnott, Director of ASH, commented:

“RIP cigarettes could save dozens of lives every year and prevent hundreds more serious injuries. They have already been introduced successfully in parts of the US and in Canada, despite opposition from the tobacco industry. We strongly support David Taylor’s excellent Bill and we hope the UK Government will now see sense and support urgent European-wide action on the issue.”


Notes and links:

[1]  Fire Statistics for the United Kingdom, 2004

[2]  Cigarette to blame for child hurt in house blaze, New Scotsman, 16.05.06

[3]  Comparisons of the Propensity of Fire Safe Cigarettes and Conventional Cigarettes To Ignite Textile Materials Used In A Domestic Environment, Department for Communities and Local Government

[4]  The New York standard requires a lit cigarette to be placed on 10 layers of standard filter paper in a draft-free environment and then observed to determine whether or not the tobacco column burns through its full length; a brand is in compliance if no more than 25% of the 40 cigarettes tested in a trial exhibit full length burns.