New laws in 5 states call for fire-safe cigarettes

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Laws mandating stores only sell cigarettes that are slow-burning and fire-safe went into effect in five states on New Year's Day.

Delaware, Iowa, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas on Thursday joined 17 other states in mandating the fire-safe cigarettes. Fifteen other states have laws that will take effect this year or next, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes.

The paper on these "fire-safe" cigarettes is thicker in two separate spots so they will go out if not puffed when they burn to these areas. The idea is to prevent fires caused when cigarettes are left unattended.

Critics say that the fire-safe brands taste different and can extinguish a cigarette before a smoker is done smoking it.

About 800 Americans die each year in fires caused by careless smoking and the coalition estimates that number will be reduced if at least half the states pass the law.

"There has been a rash of smoking materials deaths," Oklahoma Fire Marshal Robert Doke said Monday. "A cigarette will fall into overstuffed furniture or mattresses when people fall asleep, or it rolls off an ashtray and on to the carpet, then the possibility for ignition happens.

"This cigarette is supposed to snuff out before it can cause enough heat to start a flame."

Julie Alexander, manager of a Tobacco Outlet Plus store in Des Moines, Iowa, said 95 percent of her store's stock is "fire-safe" cigarettes. Many brands have only been available in the new design for some time, she said.

But Alexander said customers' response hasn't been positive.

"Our customers say they are harder to smoke and the taste isn't the same," Alexander said.

According to the coalition, states that already had implemented fire-safe cigarette laws are New York, Vermont, California, Oregon, New Hampshire, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Utah, Alaska, Rhode Island and Minnesota, as well as the District of Columbia.

Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, Washington, Louisiana, Hawaii and Wisconsin have laws that take effect this year, according to the coalition's Web site. Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and South Carolina have laws that will take effect in 2010.

Some states such as Texas are giving retailers a grace period to sell off their old inventory.