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What's Smoking? Cigarettes And Structure Fires

by the Social Diary Safety Educator Columnist Monica Zech
Column #3, January 14th, 2006

If you follow the news locally, you may have noticed the sudden increase in "fatal" home fires caused by "cigarettes." It's no surprise to officials at the National Fire Protection Association. As you'll see in the following 2004 study, "cigarettes" are the leading cause of "fatal" fires in the U.S. As a result, there's a move to require all cigarettes be self-extinguishing to help reduce these fatalities. If you smoke, or have relatives or friends that smoke, have them read the following report. To improve your health and safety "stop smoking", but until then, use extreme caution when smoking. Do not smoke in bed and never smoke if connected to or near an oxygen tank. That was the cause of a recent fatal fire in Escondido. Here's that NFPA report:

NFPA study finds a stunning increase in cigarette-caused fires

The number of fires caused by lighted tobacco products – almost always cigarettes – increased by a stunning 19 percent in the most recent year studied, according to research by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). But laws requiring that cigarettes be designed to stop burning when not actively smoked, such as the one that went into effect in New York state, could sharply reduce this destruction.

Cigarettes are the leading cause of fatal fires in the United States. Smoking materials (a category that encompasses only lighted tobacco products, not matches and lighters) led to one out of four fire deaths in 1999, more than any other cause of fire.

But only the state of New York has moved to protect its citizens from such fires. As of June 28, 2004, cigarettes sold in New York must be self-extinguishing, and all cigarette brands must be tested to make sure they self-extinguish at least 75 percent of the time.

NFPA's statistical analysis sheds light on how cigarettes lead to fatal fires. Contrary to the popular image, most victims of smoking-material fires did not fall asleep smoking. Many are not even smokers. Rather, these fires typically started when someone abandoned or improperly disposed of smoking materials. (Note: Many of the cigarette related fires we've had recently were people who fell asleep while smoking, another while smoking and drinking)

Most victims were in the room where the fire started, and most had some condition that limited their ability to get out. Often they were asleep, but a significant number were impaired by drugs, alcohol, disability or old age. Indeed, people older than 64 are more likely to die in smoking-material fires than younger people, even though they are less likely to smoke.

In 1999, smoking-material fires increased 19 percent over the previous year to 167,700, resulting in 807 civilian deaths, 2,193 civilian injuries, and $559.1 million in direct property damage. Deaths and injuries both decreased by 11 percent from 1998 to 1999, but property damage costs, adjusted for inflation, increased by 33 percent.

"Cigarette fires are a major cause of death that we know how to address,'' said James M. Shannon, NFPA president and CEO. "A cigarette touching something combustible can take significant time to produce a fire. Cut down the burning time of cigarettes and you can prevent fires."

Note: Please make sure you have a "working" smoke alarm in your home. Change smoke alarm batteries at least twice a month and test your smoke alarms at least once a month. And discuss a home escape plan with your family. And very important, if you have young children lock away or store away in a high place all matches and lighters. Nearly 85-percent of the victims of child-set fires are the children themselves, especially those age 5 and under. Proper supervision is key in preventing child-set fires and other child related injuries.

For additional fire safety information visit www.nfpa.org orEl Cajon Fire.com or for fire safety lecture contact me at (619) 441-1615.

* Monica Zech is the Public Information Officer and Safety Educator for the City of El Cajon and for El Cajon Police and Fire Departments. For safety tips please visit El Cajon Fire.com In community work, Zech is the Vice President on the board for the Trauma Research Education Foundation-TREF and a board member with Communities Against Substance Abuse-CASA. In March, Monica received the County's 2005 Individual Health Champion Award for her safety lectures in the community and throughout the county. Zech's Web Site


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