Cigarette law will focus on fire safety
Lawmaker says public unaware of new measure
By ADRIANA COLINDRES
STATE CAPITOL BUREAU
Published Sunday, August 05, 2007
Starting next year, cigarettes sold in Illinois must be manufactured in a way that makes them more likely to go out if a smoker stops puffing on them.
Supporters of the new state law that will require retailers to sell self-extinguishing cigarettes say the thinking behind it is simple: Unattended cigarettes that can put themselves out are less likely to cause fires, so lives will be saved.
The Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Rod Blagojevich approved the measure in 2006. They delayed its effective date to Jan. 1, 2008, in part to give manufacturers enough time to gear up, said Rep. Donald Moffitt, R-Gilson, one of the main legislative supporters of the plan.
The new law, while "an outstanding idea," is not yet well known among the general public, Moffitt said, citing the delayed implementation date as a likely reason.
"Its kind of like it was so far off in the future when it was passed that people didnt think about it," he said.
One of the people now trying to spread the word is Jamie Evans, fire prevention officer for the Pekin Fire Department. Evans said he has stopped by more than a dozen gas stations in the Tazewell County city and found that most of the clerks and attendants "have no idea of this law."
Evans said the potential impact of the new law became particularly clear early this year, when two house fires killed three Pekin residents. Firefighters believe that smoking materials could have caused both blazes.
"For a town of 32,000 to have three fire deaths in 46 days was a lot of fire deaths," he said.
Tobacco manufacturers say theyre ready to comply with the new Illinois law, as they have in other states with similar laws. But the manufacturers arent necessarily supportive of such laws.
Philip Morris USA spokesman David Sylvia said that the company has no objections, as long as individual state laws are in line with New Yorks law, which was the first in the nation.
David Howard, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., had a different take.
"We have opposed legislation that has been considered, bottom line, because we feel that there are probably more effective ways to go about addressing the issue," he said, citing smoke detectors and flame-retardant fabrics as other ways to reduce the incidence of fires caused by smoking materials.
The self-extinguishing cigarettes also are sometimes referred to as "low-ignition" or "firesafe" - a term that not everyone likes because it might encourage carelessness.
"They are not fire safe," Howard said. "Theyre still lit, theyre still ignited, and they still burn when used."
The tobacco company spokesmen said smokers should not notice a difference in taste with the self-extinguishing cigarettes.
"The blend, the tobacco is not changed at all," Howard said.
Whether the new law will cause the price of cigarettes to rise in Illinois remains to be seen.
Evans said he thinks a pack or carton of cigarettes will become more expensive.
The manufacturers said they dont expect that to happen.
"These cigarettes do cost more to manufacture, because of the paper, but that is not a cost we have passed on to consumers," Howard said.
Sylvia said that Philip Morris USA doesnt set the price at retail, but the cost to wholesalers is not affected.
John Fennell, chief legal counsel for the state fire marshals office, a key backer of the new law, said he wasnt sure whether low-ignition cigarettes would be more costly.
But he pointed out that Illinois lawmakers have been talking about raising the cigarette tax, which would hit smokers in the wallet anyway.
Both tobacco company spokesmen said their companies would work with wholesalers and retailers to ensure compliance with Illinois new law.
Anyone who knowingly sells cigarettes that dont comply with the law next year could face civil penalties of $500 or more.
Fennell said his office presently is writing the administrative rules that spell out how the measure will be enforced. He noted that sellers of cigarettes will be given time to get rid of their existing supply before they must start selling self-extinguishing cigarettes.
"How long thats going to take is anybodys guess," he said.
That means the new laws anticipated benefits - fewer smoking-related house fires and fewer fire-related deaths - might not be clear until a couple of years down the road, Fennell said.
‘Low-ignition’ cigarette defined
Typically, what makes these cigarettes different is the paper. At least two bands of special paper are applied on top of the traditional cigarette paper that wraps the tobacco. These bands, sometimes also called “rings,” are akin to roadway “speed bumps” because they slow down the speed at which a cigarette burns. If such a cigarette is left unattended, it will be more likely to self-extinguish than other cigarettes.
States that have enacted a low-ignition cigarette law:
These states have passed a low-ignition cigarette law, but it has not yet taken effect: