Coalition asks tobacco companies to market 'fire-safe' cigarettes

September 19, 1994|By New York Times News Service

Thirteen chiefs and commissioners of fire departments around the country, most representing major cities, have called on the tobacco industry to manufacture fire-safe cigarettes, making use a simple technology that, they say, could save hundreds of lives each year.

The coalition, forged by New York's City Fire Commissioner Howard Safir, includes the chiefs of the Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston and Miami departments. Also joining the call is the International Association of Fire Chiefs, representing 32,000 departments.

"The No. 1 cause of deaths from fire is smoking, and most of these deaths occur when somebody falls asleep and drops a cigarette on a piece of furniture or a mattress," Mr. Safir said last week. "The fire-safe cigarette would not ignite those materials. The tobacco industry has that capability now, and what it requires is a change in the manufacturing process, not the development of new technology."

But the tobacco industry said there were obstacles in the way of manufacturing fire-safe cigarettes.

The federal tests that concluded that the cigarettes were technically feasible, the industry says, did not determine whether modified cigarettes would cause health problems, whether people would buy them or whether factors other than cigarettes were the real causes of smoking-related fires. Cigarette companies have also said the cigarettes taste bad and are difficult to draw smoke through.

In 1991, according to the most recent statistics available, there were 187,100 tobacco-related fires in the nation. Of the 4,465 fire-related deaths that year, 951, or 21 percent, were attributed to tobacco.

And of the 29,375 fire-related injuries, 3,381 were caused by smoking, government and private studies showed.

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