FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN AFRICA
"Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill 2006"
The Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa (FP ASA) is grateful to the Portfolio Committee for the opportunity to comment on the Bill.
The FP ASA is a section 21 - not for profit - Company registered under the companies Act in 1973. The objects of the Association are inter-alia to reduce life and property losses from fire. With this specific focus, the FP ASA will not comment on the Amendment proposals as a whole, but concern itself primarily with the proposal to prescribe the introduction of fire-safe cigarettes Reduced Ignition Potential (RIP) cigarettes.
Statistics worldwide concur that fatalities from fire are most prominent in the home. International statistics support the fact that smoking is the leading cause of home fires. This fact is clearly apparent from statistics gathered in South Africa.
The case for the introduction of RIP's is compelling. In the United States cigarettes are the number one causes of fatal fires taking 700 to 800 lives a year and annual property losses from fires caused by cigarettes run into millions of dollars. In addition, thousands of victims suffer burn and smoke inhalation injuries.
Fire professionals deal with 150 000 tobacco-related fires per year. In July this year, Massachusetts became the sixth State to introduce RIP's (1 386 fires caused by cigarettes in this State alone last year), by law, following California, New York, Vermont, Illinois, New Hampshire and the entire country of Canada. Initial data shows that since fire-safe cigarettes were mandated there, fire deaths have declined. This should be seen as very positive in view of the fact that the use of cigarettes was not restricted in any way.
In Scotland, 30 out of the 76 domestic fire deaths in the country in 2004 were attributable to cigarettes or other tobacco products. A Member of Parliament has called for the introduction of a law to require all cigarettes sold in Scotland to be RIP cigarettes. This is supported by Strathclyde Fire Service and the Scottish Fire Brigade Union quoted as saying "For too long too many people have been 'dying for a fag".
A London study in London showed that carelessly cigarettes are one of the biggest causes of accidental fires. During the period 1996 to 2000 37% of the fire deaths in London alone were caused by cigarettes.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica holds that "to act with intent is to act with resolve; to act recklessly is to be irresponsible; and to act carelessly is to act with indifference. If a life is taken due to another's indifference then society would surely be irresponsible if it failed to act with resolve: Human Rights Act 1998, Article 2 (right to life).
The Australian experience is that 4574 fire a year are caused by cigarettes - one fire every two hours. The National Coroners Information system shows that 63 people died in fires started by cigarettes for the period 2000 to 2005. Some 7% of bush fires are attributable to discarded cigarettes and in 1998 cigarette related fires cost Australia $80,6 million.
Technology that exists to make cigarettes with a reduced ignition propensity has been available for a decade and can be described as "speed bumps" in the paper. These "speed bumps" are little more than less porous paper bands that can slow down the burning of a cigarette if it is left unattended - a valuable defence against cigarettes igniting bedclothes and furnishings, for normal cigarettes can smoulder for hours.
Local experience indicates that smoking accounted. for an average of 4,54% of fires in all categories of occupancy over the past five years. This is down on the average of 7,45% for the period 1985 to 1990. This is partly a reflection of the less reliable statistics that the FP ASA has received from the fire brigades during recent times, because of the disruptive effect that changes in local government have had on emergency services.
The majority of fires involving veld, grass, forest and bush are caused by carelessly discarded smoking materials. A calculation made by the FP ASA some years ago showed that fires involving veld, grass and bush, accounted for some 72% of the responses of the fire services. Another calculation involving the six constituent towns that make up Ekurhuleni, revealed that the average cost of a single turn-out in 1999 was R 9 514. Taking this figure as atypical for the country, the cost to emergency services of responding to an estimated 36 985 grass and bush fires was R 166, 950 290. Significant indeed.
In conclusion, the introduction of RIP cigarettes in New York appeared to have had no effect on the sales, indicating consumer acceptance. The cigarettes were also found to be no more costly or toxic than those sold in other States.
An International precedent. has been set and it appears to not have been onerous on manufacturers. The benefits of RIP cigarettes in promoting life and property safety are, however, profound.
1. Fire Australia, November 2005
2. NFPA Journal, September/October 2006
3. Fire Magazine, July 2006
4. Fire Prevention - Fire Engineers Journal, March 2005
5. Fire Australia, Autumn 2006
6. NFPA Journal, July/ August 2006