Self-extinguishing cigarettes rules introduced in the USA - now also discussed in the EU

The most common initiating event in a fatal fire is the dropping of a cigarette onto a bed or piece of upholstered furniture, causing 20 % of the estimated U.S. fire deaths from 1992-1996 in residential structures. Every year, cigarette-initiated fires claim 800 lives, cause another 2 000 serious injuries, and result in a total cost to the Nation in excess of $ 4 billion.

In the light of this heavy death toll, the test method ASTM E2187 "Standard Test Method for Measuring the Ignition Strength of Cigarettes" has been developed in the USA to test cigarettes intended to go out if they are put down. The idea behind it was to improve public safety through requirements for less fire-prone cigarettes. The test method measures the capability of a cigarette, positioned on one of three standard substrates, to generate sufficient heat to continue burning and thus potentially cause ignition of bedding or upholstered furniture. It was published end of 2002 and is now also introduced as an international ISO standard.

What is a self-extinguishing cigarette? Typically, what makes these cigarettes different is the paper. At least two bands of special paper of about 2 mm width are applied on top of the traditional cigarette paper about 2 cm from the cigarette tip. These bands, sometimes also called "rings," are akin to roadway "speed bumps" because they slow down the speed at which a cigarette burns, because they limit the air flow through the paper to the burn zone of the cigarette. If such a cigarette is left unattended, it will be more likely to self-extinguish than other cigarettes (if the cigarette has not burnt passed the rings yet). However, absolute safety is not guaranteed, because the standard requires "only" that 7 out of 10 specimens pass do not burn through.

In January 2004, the State of New York promulgated the world's first law requiring that all cigarettes sold in the State must meet a standard for low risk of igniting household furnishings. Since then, similar regulations have already been introduced in 26 American states, which have banned the sale of cigarettes that do not comply with the requirements of the standard. A similar bill has been enacted in Canada.

Launched at a hearing in the European Parliament in February 2007, the Alliance of National Health Authorities is now discussing legislation for reduced-ignition-propensity (RIP) cigarettes in Europe. The Alliance has issued the following notice: "In view of the fact that it is technically and economically feasible for cigarettes to meet fire safety standards, tobacco manufacturers should be required to produce and market only reduced ignition propensity cigarettes in the EU. Tobacco manufacturers should use the same standard as in the USA and Canada, ASTM E 2187".