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Consumers: EU move to reduce cigarette ignited fires to save hundreds of lives each year
Cigarettes left unattended are one of the leading causes of fatal fires in Europe. Evidence shows that the number of fatalities can be reduced by over 40% with the introduction of 'Reduced Ignition Propensity' (RIP) cigarettes. This means cigarettes which self extinguish when left unattended and which are thus less likely to cause fire. This safety measure is already in place in some countries globally (US, Canada, Australia), and, in the EU, in Finland since April 2010.
As from 17th November 2011, once the new safety standards are published in the EU Official Journal all cigarettes sold in Europe will have to comply with these measures. It will be the role of the national authorities to enforce this new fire safety measure.
EU Health and Consumer Commissioner, John Dalli said: "There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, and, obviously, the safest thing is not to smoke at all! But if people choose to smoke then the new standards which are about to fully enter into force will require tobacco companies to make only reduced ignition propensity cigarettes, and potentially protect hundreds of citizens from this fire hazard.".
Protecting citizens from fire hazard
Data from Member States covering 2003 to 2008 show that, in the EU, cigarette related fires cause more than 30,000 fires every year, with more than 1,000 deaths and over 4,000 injuries. The experience from Finland, where the number of victims of cigarette-ignited fires has fallen by 43%, suggests that nearly 500 lives could be saved in the EU every year.
It must be stressed that tobacco is the largest avoidable health risk in Europe causing the death of more than an estimated half a million people in the EU each year. The Commission remains committed to a "smoke-free Europe" and address this issue via its on-going EU "Ex-smokers are unstoppable" campaign (see IP/11/710 and MEMO/11/405).
New safety standards : how does it work
The change which is required under the new standards is about reducing ignition propensity, which is the ability of a cigarette left unattended to start a fire. Cigarette paper manufacturers have changed their paper production to insert two rings of thicker paper at two points along the cigarette. If the cigarette is left unattended the burning tobacco will hit one of these rings and should then self-extinguish, because the ring restricts the air / oxygen supply. A RIP cigarette cuts down the burning time, thus reducing the chance to ignite furniture, bedding or other material.
The new standards have been drawn up under the General Product Safety Directiveii, which obliges producers to place only safe products on the market.
In 2008 the European Commission defined the safety requirementsiii, following discussion with Member States, the tobacco and paper industries and NGOs, and then asked the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) to develop the relevant standards, which national authorities will use to measure compliance with fire safety rules.
For more information
Frédéric Vincent (+32 2 298 71 66)
Aikaterini Apostola (+32 2 298 76 24)