New 'Self-Extinguishing' Cigarettes May Reduce Fire Risk

It is called a "self-extinguishing" cigarette, and experts hope it will help save lives.

What are they? They are cigarettes that should go out faster if just left alone or unattended.

Currently, New York state only allows smokers there to buy the so-called "safe" cigarettes to help prevent fires caused by careless handling of smoking materials.

According to the American Burn Association , every year 900 to 1,000 people die in fires started by cigarettes.

Working with the Overland Park, Kan., Fire Department, KMBC's Maria Antonia lit one "safe" cigarette along with a regular cigarette and set them on a newspaper. The regular cigarette burned for about 15 minutes and the self-extinguishing one went out in about five minutes.

Firefighters in Kansas have battled more than 945 cigarette-related fires since 2000, which killed 30 people. Antonia reported that statistics show cigarettes are the leading cause of fatal house fires in the United States.

"The whole nation of Canada has gone to this. They don't have anything but these low-propensity cigarettes," said Jerry Brenner, of the Overland Park Fire Department.

What makes the self-extinguishing cigarettes different is the paper. The paper has bands that act like speed bumps to stop the burning if no one puffs on them.

New York started requiring the self-extinguishing cigarettes in June 2004. Early statistics show deaths from cigarette-related fires are down by one-third. But state experts want more time to tell.

Not every fire-safe cigarette went out quickly during the test, Antonia said.

Cigarette-maker R. J. Reynolds said anything that is ignited is not fire safe; and government legislation is not the answer because it takes consumers acting responsibly.

Those who put out fires for a living are also aiming for safer cigarette use.

"Discard them properly, make sure they're out. Don't get them around children who can use or play with them," Brenner said.

California and Vermont also have new laws requiring the self-extinguishing cigarettes. Such legislation has not yet been considered in Kansas or Missouri.

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