Reduced fire risk cigarettes one step closer

Published: 6th September 2006

A draft Australian standard for reduced fire risk cigarettes has been released by Standards Australia, bringing one step closer the sale of cigarettes designed to stop burning when they are not being smoked.

In Australia, cigarettes are responsible for at least 4500 fires annually, although the actual figure is probably much higher. Cigarettes are also the single biggest cause of fires resulting in death. The National Coroners Information System shows 63 people died in fires directly attributed to cigarettes in Australia between 2000 and 2005.

As the Australasian Fire Authorities Council's (AFAC) nominated representative, the NSW Fire Brigades (NSWFB) has worked with Standards Australia, the tobacco industry, the fire protection industry and scientists to develop a draft reduced fire risk cigarette (RFR) standard.

Reduced fire risk cigarettes were made compulsory in New York State in June 2004 and in Canada in 2005. California and Vermont will introduce similar laws next year. Some RFR cigarettes in the US use paper banding – the application of ultra-thin paper bands, known as 'speed humps', along the length of the cigarette that stop the cigarette from burning when it is not being puffed.

The draft Australian Standard, DR 06483 – Determination of the Extinction Propensity of Cigarettes, was released on 4 August 2006. While it does not spell out how the cigarette should be manufactured, it does require cigarettes to be tested for their reduced fire risk. The draft standard puts in place a test method, using a lit cigarette lying on a material designed to represent furniture materials, which determines if a cigarette is less likely to stay alight.

The NSWFB encourages interested parties and members of the public to take the opportunity to provide comment via the Standards Australia web site by 6 October 2006.

Along with NSW Emergency Services Minister Tony Kelly, who first proposed the draft standard be developed at the Augmented Australian Police Ministers' Council meeting in March 2005, NSWFB Commissioner Greg Mullins has been a keen advocate for introducing a compulsory standard for RFR cigarettes.

"You can't ignore the thousands of fires caused by cigarettes, the scores of people who have lost their lives in those fires and the millions of dollars in property damage and other costs to the community," Commissioner Mullins said.

"The figure of 4500 fires annually and 63 deaths in a five-year period are conservative. A large proportion of fires where the cause is undetermined have probably also been caused by cigarettes.

"We need to do something urgently and, while no standard will ever make cigarettes completely safe from causing a fire, a compulsory reduced fire risk cigarette will certainly go a long way to saving many lives and millions of dollars worth of property," Commissioner Mullins said.

Facts and figures

  • In Australia, at least 4574 fires a year in buildings and bushland are caused by cigarettes and smoking materials. This is more than 12 fires a day – or one every two hours. However, there could be many thousands more.
  • The National Coroners Information System shows that 63 people died in fires directly attributed to cigarettes in Australia for the period 2000 to 2005.
  • It is estimated that seven per cent of all bushfires in Australia are attributable to discarded cigarettes.
  • 1998 data estimates cigarette-related fires cost Australia $80.6 million
  • In NSW, cigarettes account for at least five per cent of structure fires and approximately three per cent of all fires.