New European cigarettes will put themselves out

Cigarettes that stop burning within two minutes of being put down are to replace conventional brands in an attempt to reduce the number of casualties from fires started by smouldering butts.

The European Commission is to ban traditional cigarettes by 2009-10, forcing smokers to buy "fire-safe" cigarettes that need constant drags to keep them alight.

Arlene McCarthy, a British Labour member of the European Parliament and chair of its consumer protection committee, said: "It's very good news. It will save lives. At the moment some people come home, have had a few drinks, fall asleep on the sofa with a cigarette in their hand, it falls on to flammable material and the next thing you know you've got a fire.

"Fire-safe cigarettes greatly reduce the risk of that happening."

Dr McCarthy admitted it might prove unpopular among tobacco users. "Some smokers have said that they felt it would interfere with their smoking experience, but as long as you are smoking the cigarette and drawing on it, it will stay lit. The sensation for the smoker will be no different. But the safety effect will be massive."

The EC's general product safety committee will next month discuss evidence submitted by 17 of the 27 member states showing that about 2000 people across Europe are killed every year in house fires caused by cigarettes and a further 7500 injured.

The committee is expected to vote at its next meeting, in November, to ask CEN, the body that regulates the quality of all consumer products sold in Europe, to devise an EU-wide standard for fire-safe cigarettes.

Setting a safety standard for any product usually takes two to three years, but the commission hopes to introduce fire-safe cigarettes sooner, by adopting the same standard that applies in New York State, the first place to legislate on fire-safe cigarettes. Eight other US states and Canada have followed suit, and Australia is considering passing a similar law.

The commission has rejected claims from the tobacco industry that the new cigarettes will have little impact on fire-related deaths and injuries and that they will prove more toxic to smokers. Evidence from North America suggests that changing the composition of cigarettes will add half of 1 per cent to their cost - 2p (5c) or 3p on a packet of 20.

Once the new rules come in, cigarettes imported into the EU will also have to have several concentric bands, or "speed bumps", in the tobacco paper to restrict oxygen access to the cigarette's burning end. There is concern Britain's high level of tobacco smuggling - up to 13 billion of the about 70 billion cigarettes sold are smuggled - may rise as some smokers fight to continue enjoying conventional cigarettes.

-OBSERVER

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