The EU Commission said Tuesday that all cigarettes sold throughout the European Union will be self-extinguishing "fire-safe" brands by 2011.
Last year the 27 member states approved a commission proposal which would require the tobacco industry to use fire-retardant paper in all cigarettes to cut down on the number of sometimes fatal fires caused by dropped cigarettes each year.
The independent European Committee for Standardisation has been developing pan-EU norms which the commission believes will allow the new safe cigarettes to reach the EU market and become mandatory for the industry "by 2011 at the latest," commission spokesman Ton Van Lierop said.
Such cigarettes, which go out in a minute if they are not smoked, are already on sale in Canada, Australia and parts of the United States, said von Lierop, adding that the safer cigarettes should not be any more expensive.
"We think that by 2011 at the latest these cigarettes will be on the market, and we think that this will not really lead to price increases of cigarettes. The costs will be minimal," he told reporters in Brussels.
Data from 14 EU member states (along with Iceland and Norway) show that cigarette-related fires account for some 11,000 blazes every year, with 520 deaths and 1,600 injuries. The elderly are disproportionately affected.
US research shows that cigarettes are the leading cause of home fire fatalities every year, according to the European Commission. Dropped cigarettes are also a major cause of forest fires.
The EU commission spokesman said that all 27 member states had responded positively to the plans.