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Ban on high fire risk cigarettes comes into effect

Published: 18th March 2010

New regulations that come into force next week banning the importation and production of high fire risk cigarettes could help save scores of lives in NSW and across Australia, Emergency Services Minister, Steve Whan said.

"From next week, only cigarettes designed to self-extinguish can be produced or imported into Australia. This simple step is a major advance in fire prevention, making cigarettes less of a fire risk for all Australians," Mr Whan said.

"It will boost the safety of the community and the nation’s firefighters, helping to significantly reduce the number of fires and fatalities from fires across the country.

"The NSW Government and NSW Fire Brigades have proudly led the fight for the introduction of a fire safety standard for Australian cigarettes, and it was important to highlight this issue while the NSW Parliament was sitting given our leadership role in driving this legislation."

Mr Whan said the new reduced fire risk cigarettes could have the same impact on fire prevention as the introduction of child-proof cigarette lighters.

"Every year, more than 4500 fires across Australia are caused by cigarettes and at least 77 people lost their lives in fires started by cigarettes between 2000 and 2005.

"These fires are often caused by smokers falling asleep and dropping their cigarette or people carelessly discarding cigarette butts that can then start grass fires.

"Reduced fire risk cigarettes are designed to self-extinguish when dropped and can help to significantly reduce the risk of house or grass fires being started accidentally.

"Nothing will eliminate the fire risk but these cigarettes will help reduce the chance that the cigarette you drop could ignite a fire that could destroy your home and claim the lives of your family," he said.

Unlike most cigarettes, reduced fire risk cigarettes need to be actively smoked to continue burning, making them less likely to ignite upholstered furniture, bedding or undergrowth if dropped, forgotten or carelessly discarded.

This is achieved through design changes including the use of less dense tobacco, less porous paper, a smaller diameter, a filter tip and the elimination of citrates that are added to the paper to maintain burning.

The most common commercial method is to add strips of more porous paper or ‘speed bumps’ along the length of the cigarette that cause it to go out when it is not being smoked.

Sydney University’s Professor Simon Chapman has been a researcher into RFR cigarettes and board member of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Australia.

"It is entirely appropriate that Australian should have joined Canada in nationally  legislating: this is a problem that is too important to be left to any voluntary agreement or state-by-state approach"

"This legislation will save human and wild and domestic animal life, as well as prevent untold hectares of our bush being needlessly destroyed each year.

"What is disgraceful in all this, is that Australian tobacco companies have had the know-how to introduce reduced fire risk cigarettes for many years, but chose not to do so. They apparently cared more about the fact that these cigarettes can often go out - irritating smokers - than the fact that their products were the cause of so much unnecessary death and destruction." 

Anti-smoking lobby group, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), welcomed the new regulations.

"This is a landmark moment in better protecting the community from fires caused by cigarettes," said ASH CEO, Anne Jones.

"Many fires are caused by smouldering cigarettes – if this regulation can prevent even one fire, it will be well worth the effort," Ms Jones said.

Minister Whan praised the NSW Fire Brigades for its sustained work on the introduction of reduced fire risk cigarettes in Australia.

NSW Fire Brigades Commissioner Greg Mullins said while no cigarettes were fire safe, the new mandatory safety standard for cigarettes could prevent thousands of fires and save many lives and properties.

"This is a significant landmark in the history of fire prevention in Australia and a real boost to the safety of the community and the nation’s firefighters," he said.

While all cigarettes produced locally or imported into Australia must comply with the new standard from next week, tobacco retailers have been given until September 2010 to sell their existing inventory of non-compliant cigarettes.

MEDIA CONTACT: Garth Montgomery 9228 3800 or 0408 864 851