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                           THE FIRE-SAFE CIGARETTE


house fires are the major cause of fire and burn-related deaths, and cigarettes are the major source of ignition for house fires


    A method to significantly lower the incidence of fires and of the burn injuries that they cause has been available  for over 20 years.  The fire-safe cigarette is a critical burn and fire prevention tool which has been under utilized because of legislative inertia.   This is a topic of high priority for anyone interested in fire or burn prevention.




  Cigarettes are the most common ignition source for fatal house fires, accounting for approximately 29% of the nation 's fire deaths.  A common scenario is the delayed ignition of a sofa, chair or mattress from a lit cigarette that is forgotten or dropped by a smoker whose alertness may be impaired by alcohol or medication.   A classic  study of 523  fire fatalities in the State of Maryland from 1971 to 1977 showed that the cigarette ignition of upholstered furniture or bedding accounted for 47% of all the fatal fires and 44% of all the victims (Birky et al: Fire Fatality study.  Fire and Materials 1979;3:211-217)


         Cigarettes are designed to continue burning when left unattended.  If they are dropped on mattresses, upholstered furniture or other combustible material while still burning they vary in their propensity to start fires, depending upon cigarette design and content.   The term ‘fire-safe’ has evolved to describe cigarettes designed to demonstrate a reduced propensity for igniting mattresses and upholstered furniture.



Legislative interest in the development of fire-safe smoking materials has existed for over 70 years.  Studies demonstrating the technical and economic feasibility of commercial production of  ‘fire-safe’ cigarettes were completed more than ten years ago.  Despite this, only one state (New York) has mandated a fire-safe standard for cigarettes sold within the state.   


The fire-safe cigarette concept is endorsed by multiple health and safety organizations including the American Burn Association, the American Medical Association, the National Fire Protection Association, the International Association of Fire Chiefs,  the International Association of Firefighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council and the American Public Health Association


A fire-safe cigarette was developed by a  tobacco company over 20 years ago.   In March, 1999, the television program  60 minutes  aired a segment entitled  “Up in Smoke” detailing efforts of the Philip Morris Company to develop a fire-safe cigarette in 1980 .  This research was code named “Project Hamlet” referring to a corporate inside joke “to burn or not to burn”.  Unmarked packs of ‘Hamlet” cigarettes were evaluated by taste testers (77 smokers) in 1987 and reported to be indistinguishable from the commercial Marlboro brand.    


The fire-safe cigarette is a fire and burn prevention issue, not an anti-smoking issue.   No bill limits the rights of those who choose to smoke or imposes additional health regulations on cigarette manufacturers 



                  Legislative interest in a fire-safe cigarette started in the 1920s when  U.S. Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill calling for the development of a more fire-safe cigarette as a method of preventing forest fires.   In 1978, the San Francisco-based Trauma Foundation commissioned and published an in-depth study of cigarette-caused fires.  Shortly after that, a fire started by a dropped cigarette killed five young children and their parents in the suburban Boston district of Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Moakley.  As a result, Representative Moakley developed a special interest in cigarette fire safety, and five months later introduced a bill calling on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission  (CPSC) to regulate cigarettes as a fire hazard.  Until his death in 2001,  Representative Moakley was the prime congressional sponsor of fire-safe cigarette legislation.  

             State fire-safe cigarette bills were attempted and defeated in the late 1970s and early 1980s in California, Oregon, Minnesota and New York.  To avoid having to comply with several different state standards, the Tobacco Industry acquiesced to the federal Cigarette Safety Act of 1984 (PL98-567).  This Act established a 15 member Technical Study Group  (TSG) to oversee federally-funded research performed by the National Bureau of Standards examining the technical and commercial feasibility of the development of fire-safe cigarettes. The Technical Study Group included representatives of the tobacco and furniture industries, the federal government, medical interests and the fire service    In 1987, at the conclusion of the research, the Technical Study Group released a final report stating that it was technically feasible to produce a cigarette with a significantly reduced propensity for igniting upholstered furniture fires’ and that the necessary changes in cigarette design would not have a major impact on cigarette cost.  

This report was followed by the Fire-Safe Cigarette Act of 1990 (PL 101-352).   In addition to funding the economic impact studies called for in 1987, this measure called on the Center for Fire Research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a method for testing cigarette fire safety performance.  The 15-member Technical Study Group from the 1984 legislation was reconvened and renamed the Technical Advisory Group.  The final report, released in 1993 described two cigarette fire safety test methods developed by the Center for Fire Research (‘mockup ignition method’ and the ‘cigarette extinction method’)  These test methods were never adopted because the 4 tobacco industry representatives on the technical advisory group challenged the validity of the methods.  The remaining 11 members of the technical advisory group, representing federal agencies, the furniture industry, the fire service and medical organizations, all voted to endorse these test methods.   The final reports of the Technical Study Group and the Technical Advisory Group are downloadable from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology website (click here).

     Following the release of this report, Congressman Moakley unsuccessfully introduced the Fire Safe Cigarette Act of 1994, calling on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to establish a fire-safe cigarette standard.   This bill was unsuccessfully re-introduced by Congressman  Moakley in 1999 as  HR 1130, the “Fire Safe Cigarette Act of 1999”.          

    Following the death of Rep. Moakley, two identical bills were  introduced in the House and Senate on April 25, 2002.  The Joseph Moakley Memorial Fire Safe Cigarette Act HR 4607 / S 2317 was  introduced in the House by Rep. Edward Markey (MA)   and in the Senate by Sen. Dick Durbin (IL).  The text and co-sponsors of these bills are listed in the reference material section below.   These bills were endorsed by several major medical and fire service organizations.   A second bill, with the blessing of the tobacco industry was introduced in the House as HR 4981 on June 20,2002 and again as HR 5059 on June 27 2002.  Both were introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns (FL) .   The differences between the Markey / Durbin and Stearns bills is that the Markey / Durbin bill provided funding for the CPSC to carry out the mandate of the bill and allowed individual states  to preempt the federal standard and enact tougher state standards.  Both Stearns bills did not provide any funding and did not mention state pre-emption.   A weak federal bill would thus take the teeth out of any stronger state laws.   All three House bills were referred to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, which Rep Stearns chaired.  The Senate bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.  All died with the closing of the 107th Congress.

       The Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2004 was reintroduced by Rep. Edward Markey on April 2, 2004.   The Act has 38 Cosponsors at present.  The Act provides funding for implementation of the law, and specifically does not pre-empt New York or other stronger state legislation.  A copy of the bill can be downloaded below.       

        At the state level, fire-safe cigarette legislation was unsuccessfully reintroduced in California in 1998 as Assembly Bill 2200 and in Massachusetts as Senate Bill 1194 in 2001.  In 2000,  New York State passed the first fire-safe cigarette act, scheduled to be fully implemented in June, 2003.  This law was was delayed one year pending development of a firesafe cigarette testing method.   The New York act becomes effective June  28, 2004  

      In 2003, Philip Morris paid  2 million dollars to settle a lawsuit  brought by a 13 year old girl who was burned over 75% of her body by a cigarette-ignited car fire in 1992.  The litigants noted that  'the industry had been slow to introduce fire-safe products'. This is the first cigarette  fire case that has not been dismissed before trial. ( Details at www.alexharris.co.uk/viewNewsStory.asp?id=1647)  

  In March, 2004 Canada became the first country to have a national fire-safe cigarette law.  House of Commons bill C-260 becomes effective 31 DEC 2004.  For details, go to www.parl.gc.ca/LEGISINFO  and enter c-260 in the Find the Bill search.  The bill is available below.


            The burn rate of a cigarette, defined as the change in length or mass with time, is determined by multiple factors including the circumference of the cigarette, the packing density of the tobacco, the porosity of the paper, and the presence or absence of a filter.   Cigarette manufacturers often add accelerants such as citrate, phosphate, or calcium carbonate to cigarette paper to maintain continuous burning when the cigarette is not being inhaled.      Modification of any of the above factors or deletion of accelerants will result in a slower burning cigarette with  less propensity to start a fire.   In fact, the different blending and manufacturing techniques for present cigarette brands show significant variation in propensity to start fires, and certain commercially available cigarettes are already essentially  'fire-safe' 

        There have been nearly 100 patents issued worldwide for methods claiming to render a cigarette fire-safe or self-extinguishing .

             In 1974, a study performed by Arthur D. Little, Inc. suggested that if cigarettes self-extinguished within 10 minutes of being placed on furniture, ignition would not occur.  Upon further study, it was discovered that some cigarettes could burn their entire length while placed on furniture without causing ignition.  The term "fire-safe" evolved to characterize what the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) now defines as "cigarettes demonstrating a reduced propensity for igniting mattresses and upholstered furniture".  This broader approach more accurately recognizes that many factors in addition to burning time influence how cigarettes start fires.  

            The Cigarette Safety Act of 1984 (PL98-567) provided $3 million to study the technical and economic feasibility of producing fire-safe cigarettes. This research, supervised by the Technical Study Group and performed by the National Bureau of Standards, examined the propensity of cigarettes to ignite furniture using small-scale furniture mockups. Twelve brands of commercial cigarettes representing different design and market share were examined, followed by 41 types of experimental cigarettes evaluating differences in tobacco type or density, circumference, paper porosity and citrate (accelerant) content.  Cigarette companies produced the experimental cigarettes utilized for this study.  The combination of low tobacco density, smaller diameter, lack of citrate and low paper porosity resulted in an experimental cigarette that failed to produce ignition in 20 furniture mockup trials.    Nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar measurements of the experimental cigarettes were performed by the Federal Trade Commission and found to be no greater than two popular cigarette brands on the market at the time.   Thirty different economic impact analyses plus sensitivity testing were performed based upon 5 hypothetical cigarette modifications: change in tobacco blend, chemical additives, change in cigarette circumference, change in paper weight and change in paper porosity.      Two modifications were predicted to minimally increase production costs, two modifications were predicted to minimally decrease production costs, and the fifth modification was predicted to be approximately neutral in cost consequences. 

                       The need for a standard test method was addressed by the Fire-Safe Cigarette Act of 1990 (PL 101-352).  This legislation directed the National Institute of  Science and Technology to develop a standard test method to determine cigarette ignition propensity, to compile performance data for cigarettes using this standard test method and to conduct  studies on mathematical modeling of ignition physics.

                       Two test methods for cigarette ignition propensity were developed by NIST.  The mockup ignition method uses three variations of a layer of cotton duck fabric over urethane foam padding to simulate the construction of upholstered furniture.  Outcome is measured as ignition or non-ignition of the fabric by the test cigarette. The cigarette extinction test method uses multiple layers of filter paper as a substitute for furniture fabric. Outcome is measured as full-length burning or self-extinguishment of the cigarette.   Both methods were utilized to test 14  best-selling brands of commercial cigarettes comprising  38% of the 1990 market, and six other commercial brands each with at least 2 physical characteristics associated with decreased fire propensity, comprising less than 1% of  the market.  The 14 popular brands were all similar in fire-starting characteristics. With one exception, all of the 14 brands ignited the test fabrics in all tests. In contrast, 5 of the 6 commercial cigarette brands possessing ‘fire-safe’  characteristics demonstrated decreased ignition propensities on the standard tests. To measure repeatability and reproducibility, both the mockup test method and the cigarette extinction test method were independently evaluated at 9 private and government laboratories.  The ratio of repeatability to reproducibility limits of both methods was considered to be within the range of other fire test methods presently utilized for fire regulations.    The ignition propensity test methods generated considerable controversy.  While 11 members of the Technical Advisory Group voted to endorse the test methods, the four members representing the cigarette industry voted against adaptation.  The lack of consensus regarding a standard ignition propensity test method has hindered further efforts at fire-safe cigarette legislation.

     In early 2004, the State of New York adopted  a test procedure for cigarette ignition propensity modified from the American Society of Testing and Materials Standard E-2187-02b.  The New York standard  " Part 429- Fire Safety Standards for Cigarettes" is downloadable from this page, below. 

----------------REFERENCE MATERIAL------------------------


     New York:

     The original New York State law:  S 156-c Fire Safety 

     Standards for Cigarettes   (Word format 32kb) S 156-c


     New York 2004 Implementation: Part 429, Fire Safety

      Standards for Cigarettes  (Word format 56kb) 

       PART 429


      Canadian Federal Legislation Passed 31 MAR 2004:   c-260 final.pdf.    





 109th Congress:  The Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2005 was introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (IL) on February 15, 2005.  This is essentially the same bill as HR 4155 from the 108th Congress.  The bill provides for a federal fire safe cigarette standard similar to the New York state bill.   This bill does not pre-empt state bills, and allows states to adopt standards stronger than the proposed federal legislation if desired.  This bill will likely be supported by several medical organizations including the American Burn Association. 

      copy of the bill:  S 389.PDF


Previous Federal Bills:


108th Congress: The Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2004 HR 4155:  hr 4155.pdf

list of co-sponsors: hr4155 cosponsors.pdf

HR 4155 is endorsed by several fire and medical organizations



107th Congress: 

      Recommended:    (endorsed by National Fire Protection Association,  American Burn Association, National Volunteer Fire Council  and other medical, safety and fire organizations) 

                 The Joseph Moakley Memorial Fire Safe

                     Cigarette Act of 2002  HR 4607 / S 2317

                     5 pages PDF format 188kb  HR 4607.PDF

                          -House co-sponsors  1 page 53 kb hr 4607 cosponsors.pdf

                          -Senate co-sponsors 1 page 40 kb S2317 cosponsors.pdf


       Not Recommended:  (endorsed by tobacco interests) 

                    The Fire-Safe Cigarette Act of 2002 HR 5059

                            4 pages 160 kb PDF format  HR 5059.PDF

                               -  co-sponsors 1 page 25 kb PDF format:HR 5059 cosponsors.pdf

                  The Fire-Safe Cigarette Act of 2002 HR 4981

                            4 pages 343 kb PDF format HR 4981.pdf

                              -  co-sponsors 1 page 42 kbHR4981 cosponsors.pdf

          The primary difference between both Stearns bills is that HR 5059 defines ignition propensity test failure as failure of 25% of tested cigarettes in a  trial to self extinguish vs 50%  of tested cigarettes in HR 4981


   State:  for the most up to date information, check  the Trauma Foundation website

                   at www.tf.org


            California:  Assembly Bill 178, authored by Assemblymembers Koretz, Chan, and Vargas introduced January 24, 2005.  Copy of the bill here: ab178.pdf



            New York:  Fire-safe standards went into effect June 28, 2004

            Maine:   The Fire-safe Cigarettes Bill  (LD 1127) was passed by the Health and

                            Human Services Committee in January 2004    



  www.tf.org   By far, the Trauma Foundation has the best collection of information on fire-safe cigarettes.


  www.bfrl.nist.gov/info/fire_safe_cig/index.htm    All of the federal studies funded by the Cigarette Safety Act of 1984 and the Fire-Safe Cigarette Act of 1990 are downloadable from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology / Building and Fire Research Laboratory website.


www.tobacco.org   This site contains literally hundreds of news stories related to fires caused by cigarettes.   Under category search by 'fires/injuries'





          A joint project of the Phoenix Society and the American Burn Association, available at either website or as a download here( 41 pages, 252 kb, PDF format):   Firesafecigarettekit.pdf



          Background material on the technical and legislative aspects of fire-safe cigarettes with references for most of this webpage.  Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation, 2000.  & pages, 996 kb, PDF format    fire safe cigarette JBCR 2000.pdf


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Last modified: July 11, 2004