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Bill Would Bar Cigarettes That Aren't 'Fire-Safe'

October 08, 1987|JERRY GILLAM and AMY MEDNICK | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — The tobacco industry, a recent target of regulation by health-conscious state and local governments, faced a new problem Wednesday from proposed legislation that would permit only "fire-safe" cigarettes to be sold in California.

Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) announced that he had drafted legislation to require the state fire marshal to develop fire safety performance standards for cigarettes to help prevent them from igniting upholstered furniture or mattresses.

Under the bill, any person or business selling cigarettes in California that did not meet those standards could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $1,000 a day until they conformed. The law would take effect in 1991.

At the same time in 22 locations around the country, including Orange County, health and fire officials held press conferences announcing the legislation.

Cause More Deaths

Orange County Fire Marshal Jim Stone said that people tend to associate fire deaths with heavy damages and high prices, but he said that fires confined to a small area with a lot of noxious smoke, often caused by a cigarette burning, are reponsible for more deaths.

"Smoking represents less than 10 percent of the fires in OC, but over 60 percent of the fire deaths," he said.

Similar legislation applying to all states, co-authored by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), is pending in Congress. Garamendi said he will drop his bill if the other becomes law.

The Garamendi measure was sparked by a new federal report that says the ignition propensity of cigarettes could be reduced by a smaller circumference, lower density tobacco, less porous paper and a reduction of a citrate additive used in cigarette papers to make them burn longer.

Garamendi said 1,600 people are killed in the United States each year from cigarette-caused fires, 7,000 people are injured and property damage amounts to more than $390 million.

"It is technically feasible," he said, "to develop cigarettes that will have a significantly reduced propensity to ignite upholstered furniture or mattresses.

'Change the Nature'

"We don't have to have the disfigurement, the pain, the suffering, the expense and the deaths that we presently have. All we need to do is change the nature of the cigarette itself."

Garamendi said he does not think it would be more expensive to produce a modified cigarette that would taste about the same as existing cigarettes. But he said he nevertheless expects opposition from the tobacco industry.

A spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute in Washington, Brennan Moran, declined to comment on the Garamendi bill. She said the industry wants more testing and studies of fire-safe cigarettes.

Gov. George Deukmejian late last month signed a bill that had been approved by the 1987 Legislature to bar smoking on airline flights that both begin and end in California.

However, the governor also said he believes that federal law might prevent the state from enforcing the statute. The airlines opposed the bill on the ground that it represents an unwarranted intrusion by the state into an area traditionally regulated by the federal government.

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