from The Minnesota Daily, October 26, 2001, Letters to the
headlined, Smoking laws work,
written by Edward L. Sweda, Jr., senior attorney, Tobacco Control Resource Center
... what is not mentioned is cigarettes are the
number one cause of fatal fires in residences, annually killing approximately
1,000 Americans, injuring another 4,000 and causing $4 billion in property
damage. One-third of the victims are children.
While it is impossible to ensure every one of the millions of smokers
country exercises adequate care when handling an intentionally burned
consumer product, it is possible to alter the way that product is manufactured to
make cigarette-caused fires far less likely. That was what New York’s
legislature achieved last year with passage of first-in-the-nation legislation
requiring tobacco manufacturers to produce cigarettes adhering to new fire
safety standards, something a technical study group mandated by the federal
Safe Cigarette Act of 1984 deemed “technologically and economically feasible.”
Here in Massachusetts, our state Senate has approved similar legislation in the
face of strong opposition from the tobacco lobby.
The tobacco industry’s vigorous opposition to such legislation in
across the country is yet another example of its callous disregard for human
health and safety.
(formerly RJR) -- Andrew
vacation home was destroyed by fire, and other homes in the area
all caused by a cigarette.
First of all, if Schindler had made his home and the outside area a NO SMOKING zone, this would not have happened. Secondly, if RJR had made RIP cigarettes, the fire would never have happened.
Four articles on this fire are excerpted on this page:
The Washington Post, April 23, 1997
United Press International, April 22, 1997
The Associated Press, April 22, 1997
Reuters, April 22, 1997
Baltimore Sun, February 16, 1999
Jeffrey Wigand, portrayed in the movie The Insider was moved to action after a fatal fire caused by cigarettes.
Fact Sheet on RIP cigarettes and the tobacco industry which has insisted on making cigarettes that do not self-extinguish.
Letter to editor, The
Minnesota Daily, October 26, 2001, on tobacco industry failure to
and innocent victims suffer.
The Portsmouth Herald, New Hamphire to join other states in requiring
A cigarette butt is the likely cause of a million-dollar fire that destroyed the vacation home of a top tobacco industry executive last Friday, fire officials said.
Damages to the three-story North Carolina weekend home of Andrew J. Schindler, president of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., has been estimated at $750,000, while other houses on North Carolina's Figure Eight island suffered an estimated $250,000 in losses as the fire spread.
Phil A. Kouwe, fire administrator for New Hanover County, said local fire officials had not definitively determined, or "called," the fire's cause. But a construction worker who had been reparing the Schindler house reported that he had tossed a lighted cigarette butt near the house just before his lunch break.
"This makes us look at this as a very strong possibility, but it's important that we have the time to eliminate any other possible sources of ignition," Kouwe said.
Fewer than 100 people live year-round on the private island that has recently seen a spurt of vacation home growth. The island does not have a fire station. Firefighters reached the island by the single bridge connecting it to the mainland, and also used a helicopter to drop water over the area to try to prevent the fire's spread.
Conditions are hazardous for fires in the area lately, Kouwe said. Hurricane Fran, the 1996 storm that left 31 dead and caused millions of dollars damage left masses of dead, flammable vegetation, and recent dry weather has left the island's wood-frame homes especially vulnerable, Kouwe said. "It's just extremely volatile right now."
"That's something, from a general standpoint, that people need to remember -- a cigarette is a burning object," Kouwe said.
Island resident Phyllis Atkinson saw the smoke from her deck and rode her bicycle from her home to watch the firefighters in action. "It was a terribly windy day -- we're very, very fortunate that it wasn't more extensive," Atkinson said.
Maura P. Ellis, a spokeswoman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, noted that fire officials had not definitively identified cigarettes as the cause: "Last they heard the investigation is still ongoing."
Schindler has worked for the company since 1974.
WILMINGTON, N.C., April 22 (UPI) _ Fire investigators in Wilmington, N.C., say a fire that destroyed the vacation home of the president of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was probably caused by a discarded cigarette.
The three-story $750,000 home of Andrew Schindler on Figure Eight Island was destroyed by the fire Friday. There were no injuries.
New Hanover County fire marshal Aubrey Rivenbark said today (Tuesday) the fire appears to have been caused by a cigarette left behind by workmen installing tile.
A man working in an area near a shrubbery bed where the fire started told investigators he had smoked a cigarette about a half-hour before the crew left for lunch.
Fanned by wind gusts of up to 30 mph, the fire scorched roofs and decks on four adjacent oceanfront homes, causing another $250,000 in damage. It was the first major fire on the private island in more than a decade.
Investigators say they've found no other possible cause for the fire, such as an electrical malfunction.
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) -- A fire that destroyed a vacation home owned by the president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. likely was caused by a discarded cigarette, investigators said.
The home owned by Andrew Schindler caught fire Friday while workmen installing tile were at lunch. A worker told investigators he smoked a cigarette about 30 to 45 minutes before the crew left.
Embers from the fire, fanned by 25 mph wind, flew across a road and scorched roofs and decks on four oceanfront homes.
WILMINGTON, N.C., April 22 (Reuter) - A discarded cigarette was the probable cause of a fire that destroyed the luxury vacation home of the president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and caused $1 million in damages, fire officials said on Tuesday.
The three-floor beach home of Reynolds President Andrew Schindler on upscale Figure Eight island was reduced to a row of charred pilings after it caught fire while workers installing ceiling tile were at lunch on Friday.
Damage to the house was estimated at $750,000. Damage caused to houses nearby by flying embers as the fire raged was estimated at $250,000.
"Every county fire department around was there," said a spokesman for the Wilmington Fire Department.
Fire officials said inspectors had not made a final determination of what caused the accidental blaze. But they said it likely was caused by a cigarette butt left by a worker who told inspectors he had smoked near where the fire started about half an hour before the crew left.
It was the deadliest fire Boston had suffered in 18 years, and out of its ashes emerged an impassioned whistleblower, ready to begin the epic battle against Big Tobacco.
The four-alarm blaze raged through a Roslindale apartment on May 27, 1990, killing five members of an Irish immigrant family and one of their friends.
Myles O'Neill, a handyman who had come from Ireland four years earlier, his wife Maureen, their three young children, and the boyfriend of Maureen's younger sister, Deirdre Kearney, perished in the savage fire - a fire that was started, Boston fire officials concluded, by a burning cigarette accidentally dropped between cushions in an overstuffed chair.
Only Kearney, who also lived in the first-floor apartment, survived the blaze.
From this traumatic fire, she and other grieving relatives launched an attack on the nation's tobacco industry in a lawsuit charging Philip Morris Cos. with responsibility for the deaths, because it failed to use available technology to produce a safer cigarette. To support their claims, they enlisted the help of Jeffrey Wigand, former top researcher for tobacco giant Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., whose ordeal with the tobacco industry is the subject of a new film, ''The Insider,'' which is airing in Boston.
Wigand's anger at the outcome of the Roslindale case, which was dismissed without coming to trial, helped spur him to go public about attempts by industry executives to hide what they knew about the addictive effects of nicotine and carcinogens used to sweeten pipe tobacco.
Less well-known is the case of the Roslindale fire, in which Wigand was blocked from giving evidence by federal judge Robert E. Keeton. The judge ruled that Wigand was an unfit witness because a confidentiality agreement he had signed with Brown & Williamson prohibited him from speaking publicly about tobacco.
Wigand also said he believed that the Roslindale fire could have been prevented if the tobacco industry had produced fire-safe cigarettes, which, he said, it knew how to do before 1990. Fire-safe cigarettes are less likely to cause fires because they are thinner, less dense and less porous than other cigarettes, and hence produce less heat when lit.
''A favorable outcome could have forced the tobacco industry to produce a fire-safe cigarette,'' said Gregory Connolly, director of the Tobacco Control Program in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. ''There's no question that suppressing Jeff's testimony had a deadly effect.''
But the discovery phase of the proceedings stretched on for several years, remembered Andrew McGuire, now executive director of the Trauma Foundation at San Francisco General Hospital, who began the campaign for fire-safe cigarettes in 1979.
After a cigarette ignited a fatal fire that roared through a Baltimore high-rise Feb. 5, Maryland Fire Marshal Rocco J. Gabriele cautioned smokers, noting that careless smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths.
But Gabriele did not mention one reason smoking remains such a fire hazard: For 20 years, the tobacco industry has defeated attempts to require that cigarettes be redesigned to make them less likely to start fires. The industry's main tactic has been to weaken support for such regulation by courting key fire officials such as Gabriele with hefty donations.
The National Association of State Fire Marshals, which Gabriele leads as president, receives $50,000 a year from tobacco giant Philip Morris for "administrative expenses." Several years ago, the tobacco industry gave the association $500,000, which was used to buy smoke detectors for free distribution.
The fire marshal association's Washington office is run by longtime tobacco lobbyist Peter G. Sparber, who represented R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in Congress until recently on the issue of fire-safe cigarettes.
Sparber, who said he serves the association for no fee, has also lobbied on behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council, a coalition of volunteer fire companies that has received tobacco funding.
Advocates of fire-safety standards for cigarettes find the tobacco-firefighter alliances preposterous.
"It's like the police department taking money from the Mafia to support crime control," said Andrew McGuire, a San Francisco fire-safety advocate who has served on two federal study groups on fire-safe cigarettes. "I think the tobacco industry recognized early on the potential harm the fire service could cause them."
Glenn E. Schneider, spokesman for the anti- tobacco coalition Smoke Free Maryland, said the cigarette companies have often used financial largess to neutralize potential critics.
"Is no organization sacred?" Schneider said. "It's reprehensible that they [cigarette manufacturers] are trying to get into bed with the firefighting industry on this issue."
Rep. Joe Moakley, a Massachusetts Democrat who has fought for years for fire-safe-cigarette standards, said the industry is capable of producing such a product, either by making cigarettes self-extinguishing or changing their composition and dimensions. The holdup has been not technology but politics, he said.
"It's taken so long because tobacco has a great lobbying force in the Congress," said Moakley, who began pushing for legislation after a cigarette-caused fire in his district in 1979 killed seven members of one family. "If the industry hadn't opposed it, it would have passed long ago."
Moakley said the tobacco companies' generosity to firefighters had effectively blunted their support for standards. "They bought smoke detectors and fire alarms, they financed Little Leagues, and they tried to seem like the good guys," he said.
"Quite frankly, I don't care where we get the money," Gabriele said. "I'm not proud. I'll take money from anyone who wants to give it to us."
Sparber said any suggestion that the tobacco industry has influenced fire-protection groups with their financial support was "ridiculous." Most of the industry donations supported fire-prevention efforts, he said.
Michael W. Minieri II, executive director of the fire marshals' association, said that by policy, the group accepts corporate contributions but does not permit donors to influence its positions. He said the association has opposed fire-safe-cigarette standards in the past only because they were not effective.
"We are strongly in favor of effective standards," Minieri said. "We oppose standards that aren't effective."
Philip Morris spokeswoman Mary Carnovale said the biggest U.S. cigarette manufacturer has aided fire-safety groups not to influence them, but because the company recognizes that cigarettes cause fires.
She said Philip Morris is continuing research on making cigarettes safer. But she added: "No standard for cigarettes and fire safety can replace the need for the exercise of good common sense and individual responsibility."
Internal tobacco industry documents unveiled in recent lawsuits show the strategy of blocking fire-safety standards for cigarettes by wooing firefighting organizations was devised shortly after Moakley began pushing for regulation.
The Tobacco Institute's 1984 report to its board of directors proudly described how the institute had turned around firefighters' backing for federal standards.
"Before we began [in 1982], the fire service was slowly uniting against us," the report said. "Uniformed firefighters were appearing at legislative hearings, writing articles and giving interviews, demanding cigarette regulation.
"By this past summer, several of the largest fire service groups were working closely with us legislatively and on the prevention of all kinds of accidental fires. We have been asked to serve on their boards. We are asked to give speeches and we are invited into the homes and private meetings of America's fire service," the report said.
"We are not out of the woods," the report said, noting that a federal study of standards was then just beginning. "But we face the rest of it with the fire fighters, and not with them against us."
That strategy has remained effective for 15 years. Hearing a mixed message on the issue from firefighting organizations, Congress has never set standards. Instead, it has ordered two studies and directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop tests to measure the fire hazard from particular cigarettes, which it did in 1993.
Richard J. Gann, chief of the federal agency's fire science program, said that the 14 leading cigarette brands flunked the two tests his agency helped devise. But he said certain lesser-known brands were far less likely to cause fires, suggesting that safer cigarettes are feasible.
"If an effective standard is put in place and the cigarette industry meets it, you'll see the result very quickly in a reduction of fires and fire deaths," Gann said.
Moakley said tobacco lobbyists have long diverted attention from cigarettes to furniture, mattresses and other products that dropped cigarettes ignite.
"Every time I get close, they say, 'Let's make furniture fireproof,' " Moakley said. "They want to fireproof the world so that people can drop their cigarettes everywhere."
Exactly 25 years ago this month [June, 2004], Mother Jones magazine published an article which I wrote, “Cigarettes and Sofas,” documenting the relationship between cigarettes and fires. It reported on “self-extinguishing” cigarettes, designed to go out if not actively puffed on by the smoker, and on how the tobacco industry had successfully suppressed information about them.
The article was based on preliminary research by Andrew McGuire of San Francisco’s Trauma Foundation, and my own research was funded by $3,500 from the Oakland Firefighter’s Union, spearheaded by the enthusiasm of member Ray Gatchalian (who died too young in an auto accident last year.) At the time it was published, it got a lot of attention, leading to several television adaptations and receiving an award from Project Censored, which at the time (and perhaps still) spotlighted stories which were ignored by the mainstream press. It was reprinted from time to time over the years—Mother Jones offered me a $12 royalty check for reprints not too long ago. There were lawsuits by victims of cigarette fires, and bills in Congress and in state legislatures to require cigarettes to be self-extinguishing. As long as big tobacco was powerful and well-funded, nothing happened.
It took more than 25 years and a lot of work by a lot of people to begin to solve this relatively straightforward safety problem. That’s somewhat of a cautionary tale for those who believe in the power of the press. Just finding out the truth is not enough, as Andrew McGuire, who first pulled the statistics together, can tell you. Without the sponsorship of the firefighters, Andrew’s research might never have seen the light of day in print. Even after the facts were before the public, both in print and on television, it took court cases and lobbying legislatures to get anything accomplished.
June, 25 years later, with the tobacco industry now on the defensive,
New York’s state law mandating fire-safe cigarettes finally came on
line. It’s about time. New York has a big percentage of the smoking
market, so this law will save many lives. Canada’s Parliament also
passed such a law in April of this year. California should be next.
With both California and New York on the books, it’s likely the
American tobacco industry would find it practical to give in and make
all cigarettes sold nationwide self-extinguishing.
Updated 4 February 2008