Before Its Time?

Ga. bill would require more fire-safe cigarettes

ATLANTA -- Cigarettes sold in Georgia would have to be less likely to cause fires under a bill (Senate Bill 487) being pushed by a leader in the state Senate, reported the Associated Press.

State Senator Don Balfour (R), chairman of the chamber's Rules Committee, said requiring retailers to sell cigarettes with bands that can stop them from burning would help prevent fires that kill about 1,000 people and cause $400 million in damage in the United States each year.

"This safer cigarette would be a way to save lives in the state [image-nocss] of Georgia," Balfour said Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate committee considering the bill.

Critics, from the tobacco industry to convenience store groups, quickly lined up to oppose the plan, saying technology that reduces fire risk may actually make cigarettes more unhealthy to smoke. They also said the extra cost and different taste of the fire-safe cigarettes would drive smokers, and their money, across state lines or to the Internet to buy their favorite brands.

"Customers are very brand loyal," Jim Tudor, president of the 2,600-member Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, told AP. "I think we're making it much too easy with this to see sales revenue moving to other states."

Rusty Kidd, a lobbyist for R.J. Reynolds, said, "Cigarettes don't cause fires. The people whosmoke cigarettes cause fires."

The cigarettes proposed under Balfour's bill contain internal bands designed to snuff out the tip once a smoker stops sucking air through it. New York, California and Vermont now require the bands on cigarettes.

The bill has the backing of fire safety groups, as well as the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association.

Andy Lord of the American Cancer Society said one out of every four fire deaths is associated with cigarettes. "I don't think we can dispute the fact that this would reduce those deaths," he said.

Lord and Balfour disagreed with tobacco industry lobbyists who said the smokeless technology increases the levels of carbon monoxide and other dangerous chemicals smokers consume. Lord said a Harvard University study showed that the 14 most dangerous carcinogens in cigarettes were not increased by the technology and five others showed minor increases.

"The small increases in some of the chemicals are insignificant compared to the danger of the product itself," Lord said.

The Senate's Agriculture & Consumer Affairs committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday. Chairman John Bulloch (R) asked for more information from supporters and detractors. He did not say when, or if, the committee would vote.

Balfour, who as Rules Committee chair helps decide which bills appear on the Senate floor, said he knows the plan will face opposition. "It's an uphill battle," he said. "This bill may be one that's before its time."