Australia — New Federal legislation in Australia regulating the manufacture of cigarettes could play a critical role in the prevention of household and bushfires.
The legislation, beginning in March 2010, will require all cigarettes imported and manufactured in Australia to pass stricter fire safety standards. The reduced fire risk (RFR) cigarettes will be designed to self-extinguish before burning full length at least 75 per cent of the time, lowering the likelihood of fires caused by discarded butts.
Canada and 36 US States have already passed fire-safe cigarette laws, while the EU aims to pass similar legislation by 2011. New York reported a 30 per cent decrease in cigarette-caused fire deaths in the year following the introduction of RFR cigarettes.
The Australian Attorney-General and the Minister of Consumer Affairs confirmed in a joint media release in September that the Trade Practices Act would be amended to address this issue.
Cigarette-caused fires cost Australia in excess of $100 million each year not to mention the injuries and deaths that result from carelessly discard cigarettes, said the Hon Chris Bowen, MP, Assistant Treasurer and Minister of Consumer Affairs.
In Victoria, a conservative estimate figures 7 per cent of bushfires and 9 per cent of structural fires are caused by cigarettes and smokers materials. In New South Wales, a cigarette tossed from a car window caused fires that burned 4000 hectares in one day in the Lake Macquarie area in 2002.
With the bushfire season approaching, emergency services all over Australia prepare for fires caused by negligence. If 1000 people threw cigarette butts out of their car onto grass under these conditions, they could start 40 fires, commented the Hon Tony Kelly, NSW Minister for Emergency Services, in a press release.
In the short term, education and public awareness about fire safety may be more crucial than legislation. The NSW Fire Brigades and the NSW Rural Fire Service have already begun campaigns to warn about the risks of irresponsible cigarette disposal. All states and territories have laws to prosecute people caught discarding lighted butts, including on-the-spot fines of $227 in Victoria.
However, British American Tobacco Australia has reasoned that no cigarette is fire safe and that RFR cigarettes may give consumers a false sense of security, encouraging unsafe discarding habits.
A study in New Zealand found that 100 per cent of regular cigarettes burned to full length, compared to 73 per cent of American brand Merit RFR cigarettes. By contrast, 100 per cent of hand rolled cigarettes self-extinguished. The difference may lie in burning agents added to commercial cigarettes.