The leading cause of fire deaths in American for the past 30 years has been cigarette fires as reported by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Older smokers seem to be at the greatest risk. Senior smokers die four times more than others, one in ten building fires with fatalities that are caused by cigarettes end with the death of an older smoker. Cigarette fires kill 700-900 people a year.
Many people are concerned about the manufacturing of cigarettes, as the additives and chemicals in the design are deadly and many are known carcinogens. Other ingredients and additives enhance the burning rate. This is believed to be responsible for the high rate of fires by cigarettes. Controversial additives in cigarettes include cyanide, benzene and formaldehyde. Wood alcohol or methanol, acetylene (to fuel welding) and ammonia are among the ingredients that have medical professionals and regulatory bodies concerned. Carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide are also part of cigarette smoke. Nicotine and tar are known elements that lead directly to health, addiction and other risks. Tobacco leaves may have radioactive materials, the level and severity of the radioactivity depends on the fertilizers and chemicals used in growing the tobacco. Ammonium and sodium phosphate and sodium and potassium citrate are added to cigarettes to keep the burn rate steady even when not actively puffed.
There are cigarettes that reduce the likelihood of burning if left unattended. The so called “fire safe” cigarettes, while tobacco companies claim this is a misleading name, and that the cigarettes actually can still start fires and will sometime burn long enough to catch flammable materials on fire in nearby areas to where they are burning.
Fire safe cigarettes are designed to stop burning if left unattended. Often manufacturers of cigarettes add thin bands of paper that is less porous. This acts as a stop gap, slowing down the burn rate of the cigarette. Once the cigarette burns to this point, if unattended it should self extinguish. This will save lives, especially for senior citizens who may fall asleep with a cigarette burning.
Part of the concern is the additives in cigarettes designed to improve burn, but fire safe cigarettes are available. Tobacco companies are not coming forward to self regulate the need to produce only fire safe cigarettes, so in many cases legislation has been proposed to regulate the production and manufacturing of fire safe brands of cigarettes. The lobbyists have put time and effort in stopping the mandates, but in some states the fire safe legislation has emerged in states like New York, California and Vermont and Illinois and New Hampshire looking like they will follow suit. In many cases, however the lobbyists have succeeded in stalling the regulations. This resulted in a miss match of laws and regulations for tobacco companies.
Even though the manufacturers of cigarettes still claim the fire safe cigarettes can be a hazard, independent research reports (National Fire Protection Association) that fire safe cigarettes can reduce fires caused by unattended cigarettes by 75%. In New York the initial findings after the adoption of the fire safe legislation seems to support the National Fire Protection Association findings as fatalities from cigarette fires were down a third for the first six months post adoption of the new requirements.
Many people have looked to electronic cigarettes as an alternative to the standard cigarette as a solution for the fire safety concerns. Battery operated nicotine delivery systems are part of the electronic cigarette design. The absence of the chemicals and additives of standard cigarettes have given smokers the impression that the electronic cigarettes are safer. The use of this substitute reduces the effects of the chemicals, carcinogens and tars that have other associated risks. Electronic cigarettes do not burn, which does make them less of a risk for fires.
Clearly the safest cigarettes are the ones never lit. Cigarettes have serious health risks, and in many cases lead to devastating and debilitating disease including emphysema, illness and death. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, consider meeting with your medical professional to create a cessation plan that will integrate support, new behaviors, nicotine replacement and a network of resources to enhance your potential for success in stopping smoking. This will ultimately reduce your risk of cigarette based fires, health problems and fatal consequences from the side effects of tobacco and cigarette smoking.