A meeting of emergency services ministers in Canberra on Wednesday deliberated upon the need for introducing "fire-proof" cigarettes that get extinguished on their own as the smoker drops the butt, a measure that may help reduce the risk of fires in homes and the bush.
New South Wales (NSW) Emergency Services Minister Nathan Rees moved the resolution to make the reduced fire risk (RFR) cigarettes, which are already produced overseas in Canada and New York, mandatory under the Trade Practices Act as early as next year.
"We hope this will be law by early 2009, requiring all cigarettes manufactured and sold throughout Australia to be self-extinguishing," the Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.
"Every day's delay is another day we live with the risk that someone will be killed or injured or homes or bushland destroyed because cigarettes keep burning when they are dropped or thrown from a car window," he added.
Each year, around 4500 fires are caused by cigarette ignitions in Australia. Fires, directly attributed to cigarettes, claimed about 65 lives between 2000 and 2005.
A significant decline has resulted in fire deaths in New York since the introduction of RFR cigarettes in New York in 2004, according to preliminary data.
According to NSW Fire Brigades, a normal cigarette dropped on furnishings may start a fire in less than 18 minutes, whereas an RFR cigarette extinguishes on its own.
Rees said that some people in the industry had expressed non-acceptance to the introduction of the RFR cigarette, complaining about costs, difficulties in testing, and compliance and production lead times.
"NSW does not accept that the industry needs an 18-month to two-year time frame to introduce these cigarettes, which are already being produced and sold in Canada and a number of states in the US," he said.
The newspaper report says that the Australian tobacco industry is concerned that no testing has been done to ensure that the cigarettes do not pose a further risk to smokers' health.