Banning Novelty Lighters

Maine first state to make the move

AUGUSTA, Maine -- While in a small southern Maine grocery store with his mother last June 12 to buy sandwiches, Shane St. Pierre picked up a miniature baseball bat and flicked the switch to see what would happen. A flame shot out, singeing the 6-year-old's eyebrow and burning part of his face. His parents called the state fire marshal's office and were surprised to learn that Maine had no law banning so-called novelty lighters. That's no longer the case.

On Monday, Shane stood next to Gov. John Baldacci as he signed legislation that makes Maine the first state to outlaw the sale of cigarette [image-nocss] lighters that are attractive to children because they come in the shapes of cartoon characters, toys and animals, according to an Associated Press report.

"It's not often I get to sign a bill that's the nation's first," said Baldacci, whose desk was covered with an array of novelty lighters, including a race car, a sandal, a cow and two bright red items that ironically were in the shapes of a fire hydrant and fire extinguisher.

Baldacci said that's where the fun stops. He said more than 5,000 household fires are caused each year by children younger than 5, and "anything we can do to prevent children from playing with lighters will serve to save lives and homes."

Novelty lighters without child-resistant devices are banned in European Union countries, and several American states have considered similar bans. They include Arkansas, where two children died in a fire last year blamed on a lighter shaped like a tiny motorcycle.

Municipalities in California, Washington and Arkansas have passed ordinances barring stores from selling them. In Maine, Dead River Co., which owns a chain of convenience stores, had already opted to remove novelty lighters from its shelves, said Maine Fire Marshal John Dean.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals, which Dean heads as president, is supporting an effort to ban novelty lighters across the country.

The Lighter Association, a national trade group, supports laws to ban novelty lighters. But a California-based distributor of the lighters, John Gibson, said in many cases the novelty lighters are safer than regular ones and that complaints stem from "overzealous fire marshals."

When Shane St. Pierre was burned in Livermore, Maine, he mistook the baseball-bat lighter for a flashlight, said his father, Norm St. Pierre, fire chief in West Paris. When Shane flicked the switch, a flame shot out rather than a beam of light.

The child's injuries prompted St. Pierre to seek a state law. St. Pierre was joined by many other uniformed fire chiefs from across Maine at Monday's bill signing.

The state will issue safety warnings and word of the new law through YMCAs, pediatricians and family doctors' offices.