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Smoking: Fire-safer Cigarettes

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will encourage or oblige United Kingdom tobacco manufacturers to introduce the self-extinguishing fire safety cigarette.

My Lords, careless handling of smokers’ materials continues to be one of the major causes of UK accidental fires in the home. My department has been instrumental in encouraging the European Commission to look into the case for creating a European standard for fire-safer cigarettes. The European Commission will vote later this month on whether to create such a standard.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Given that 2,000 deaths each year are attributable to this type of fire in 14 member states of the European Union, I believe that the final remedy will have to be found through the EU. But given the urgency of the situation in this country, where 110 lives are lost and 1,100 people are injured in 3,000 such fires annually, will my noble friend encourage the interested parties, including the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, to see what can be done now to extinguish this blot on our social life?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. We have already engaged with the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association and with manufacturers to encourage their co-operation on the European standard, which will be based on the existing American standard. We will continue to do so, and continue to take a lead in Europe. We expect that next week’s vote in Europe will be positive and Sir Ken Knight, the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, has already volunteered to chair the technical standards committee to take the work forward.

My Lords, while approving entirely of the sentiments of the noble Lord’s Question, I do not understand it. Does it mean that if you stop sucking the thing goes out? If so, it seems hardly worth buying any.

My Lords, in response to that very technical question, the position is that if you stop sucking, it goes out. These cigarettes have little bands like speed bumps which are made of extra, less porous filter paper. Consequently they extinguish themselves—sadly.

My Lords, it is difficult to discuss a puff of smoke after the previous two questions. However, I acknowledge the benefit on the fire-hazard front. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that there will be no change to the health risks of cigarettes as a result of doing this?

Yes, my Lords, I can. New York State was the first place to legislate under the American standard to ban the use of conventional cigarettes and 22 American states now have such legislation in place. As we understand it, there is no change to the health considerations.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness explain why her department’s report persists in using the term “fire safe” to describe these cigarettes? Does she agree that it is rather irresponsible to suggest that a lit cigarette does not imply some sort of hazard, even if it is reduced?

My Lords, if the department is using that term it is a mistake, because the term is “fire-safer”. It is a very important distinction. As the noble Baroness says, no cigarette is safe as long as it is alight; but because these cigarettes do not burn their full length they are much safer than conventional ones.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the good example set by Wales in introducing a smoking ban has now been followed by England? Can she give an indication of how successful a smoking ban in England has been? It has been a great success in Wales. Does she also agree, returning to my noble friend’s Question, that the fewer the cigarettes smoked, the smaller will be the hazard from fire?

My Lords, as we all know, Wales often takes the lead. However, we have some very positive statistics for England. The smoking ban was introduced in July, and 98 per cent of smoke-free premises and venues inspected in August by local authorities across England were properly compliant. That is an excellent result. We have a range of strategies to help people stop smoking and to make it difficult for them to smoke, but as long as people continue to smoke, and to die from it, we must do all that we can to protect them from death and injury resulting from fire as well.

My Lords, since the subject of health and smoking has come up, does the Minister agree that a practical aid to giving up smoking would be for every tobacco outlet to stock and sell nicotine replacement therapies?

My Lords, that is a sensible idea and I cannot think of a reason why it should not be done. In fact, since the beginning of October the minimum age for the sale of cigarettes has gone up from 16 to 18 years, so the retail industry is playing its part in this. But I am sure that the Department of Health will want to consider what the noble Lord has just said.

My Lords, will the new system—with speed bumps on the cigarette paper—apply also to the cigarette papers used by those who roll their own?

My Lords, I knew that there would be variations on this theme, though I was expecting a question on pipes. People who roll their own cigarettes are such technicians that I am sure they will be able to manufacture a way of dealing with this. I shall try to get a template organised for the noble Lord.