State now requires “fire-safe” cigarettes

They donâÄôt look very different and they cost about the same, but starting Monday, all the cigarettes in the state of Minnesota will be âÄúfire safe.âÄù A law passed in 2007 goes into effect Monday, requiring all cigarettes sold in the state to be fire safe, meaning the cigarette self-extinguishes if left unattended for too long. The new bill is being applauded by tobacco control advocates and firefighters across the state as being the most important fire-prevention legislation passed in more than 30 years, Nyle Zikmund, Legislative Committee Chair for the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, said. âÄúIn terms of fire safety, when you take in combination the number of civilian lives and the hazard posed upon firefighters, there just isnâÄôt anything that even comes close to addressing this problem,âÄù Zikmund said. According to the National Fire Protection Association, cigarettes are a leading cause of home fire fatalities in the United States, killing 700 to 900 people per year. They may have also played a role in a 2003 house fire that killed 3 University of Minnesota students. Kim Wencl, the mother of one of the students who died, said there was never an official cause of the fire that killed her daughter, Liz Wencl. However, sheâÄôs fairly sure it was careless smoking and is happy with the new fire-safe cigarette law. âÄúI hope this new law will save many lives in the future,” Kim Wencl said. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, has been pushing for the fire-safe cigarette since 1987. But recently other states have adopted fire-safe cigarette legislation. About 15 states passed fire-safe cigarette laws in 2008 alone, and states like New York have had fire-safe cigarettes on the shelves since 2004. Positive results from other states with fire-safe cigarettes finally gave the law some momentum in Minnesota after 20 years, Marty said. âÄúI think the cigarette industry just figured they have so many other fights and this was just one they were going to lose,âÄù he said. With more states signing fire-safe cigarette laws, Marty said he hopes this will eventually become a federal law. Minnesota’s law doesn’t specify how to make the cigarette âÄúfire-safeâÄù, but the most common technology used by cigarette manufacturers is to wrap cigarettes with several thin bands of less-porous paper that slow down the burning of a cigarette. If a fire-safe cigarette is left unattended, the burning tobacco will reach that paper and self-extinguish. Although there were early fears that the new cigarettes were made with chemicals that could endanger the usersâÄô health, the National Fire Protection Association found no evidence that they were more dangerous to smokers, Lorraine Carli, spokeswoman for the NFPA, said A study performed in 2005 by the Harvard School of Public Health also found no substantial differences in toxicity between fire-safe cigarettes and their conventional counterparts. However, some convenience stores are having technical issues with making the switch. Becky Dombrovske, an employee at the BP Gas Station on University Avenue near Dinkytown, said the station has had issues with having to enter all new codes for the fire-safe cigarettes. But Dombrovske said they have known about the change for several months and have been transitioning for the last few weeks. âÄúThatâÄôs just what has to happen when you get a new product in,âÄù she said. Laura Gislason, a senior studying geology at the University of Minnesota and a smoker, said this new law is a great idea. âÄúI have heard of several situations where people I know have had to evacuate their apartment because someone burnt their apartment down,âÄù she said. âÄúThis will just be much safer overall.âÄù