April 9, 2008

Our cigarettes will be 'fire-safe' -- feel better yet?

The nine most frightening words in the English language -- "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help. -- came unbidden to mind Wednesday when I read this press release from the governor's office:
Gov. Jim Doyle today signed legislation requiring cigarettes sold in Wisconsin to be fire-safe. State legislators, firefighters, public health officials, and representatives of the tobacco industry joined Governor Doyle at the Beloit Fire Station for the signing.

“I am pleased to sign a bill that increases public safety by regulating tobacco,” Gov. Doyle said. “This bill will ensure that smokers reduce the risk they pose to themselves and others.”

Assembly Bill 717 requires each company that sells cigarettes in Wisconsin to meet a fire safety performance standard
Fire-safe cigarettes, what's not to like?

Well, for starters, how many times have you heard of fires started by a cigarette? Yes, it happens: According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a research group that provides data for state and federal fire codes -- according to an article in USA Today last year -- "cigarette fires have been the top cause of U.S. fire fatalities for decades, killing tens of thousands of people in the past 30 years." Deaths have declined with falling smoking rates but "cigarette fires still kill 700 to 900 people a year."

Got that? "Tens of thousands over 30 years." "900 a year!" That's the danger we and a number of other states have chosen to confront?

Meanwhile, cigarettes cause lung cancer, which kills more than 160,000 Americans every year. Also cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, bladder, kidney, cervix and pancreas. Cigarette smoke is the most common cause of emphysema. Toxins in the blood from smoking cigarettes contribute to the development of atherosclerosis and other cardio-vascular diseases. In all, cigarettes are blamed for the deaths of roughly 440,000 Americans every year, says the American Heart Association.

The European Union requires this warning on all cigarette packages: “Tobacco seriously damages health.” Australia's warning includes: "Smoking causes heart disease, Smoking when pregnant harms your baby, and your smoking can harm others.” Canada's warning says, "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease, Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease, Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in non-smokers, Cigarettes are addictive, Tobacco use can make you impotent, Don’t poison us, Cigarettes cause mouth diseases.”

Notice how none of them mention that cigarettes can start fires? Must be an oversight.

Yet that's the danger the state of Wisconsin chose to address. Granted, on Jan. 1 the state's tax on cigarettes went up $1 a pack, to $1.77 -- as we play both sides of the cigarette debate: high taxes to discourage smokers while also adding to state coffers.

In the first few months of 2008, cigarette smoking in the state does appear to have dropped, and there were more calls to the Tobacco Quit line. In March Gov. Doyle, who last year pressed for an even higher cigarette tax increase and even for a statewide ban on smoking in all public places, noted:
"The intent of the cigarette tax was to help people quit smoking. In the first two months of this year, there were 20,000 calls to the Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW), far more than in the past.

Well, we didn't get a statewide smoking ban, but now our cigarettes will be fire-safe! Can't you just feel the good health washing over you?


  1. I have the answer! Someone in the Wisconsin government works for lighters. I bought smokes from Illinois (to beat the Wis tax) and they not only smelt bad but I had to relight them everytime I took a drag. I called Salem to tell them they had a bad batch and they said they had to sell Illinois non-burnable paper smokes by law. "Almost" wants me to quit...but not today.

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