USFA and NFPA Release Report on Mitigation of Smoking Fires

June 9, 2006
Acting United States Fire Administrator Charlie Dickinson and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) President and CEO James Shannon announced the completion of a report on Behavioral Mitigation of Smoking Fires. The report is the result of a USFA partnership with NFPA to develop sound, research-based recommendations for behavioral mitigation strategies to reduce smoking fire fatalities in the United States.

"Smoking continues to be the number one cause of residential fire deaths, which justifies a new look at research about the role of behaviors in causing those deaths," said Acting USFA Administrator Charlie Dickinson. "Through this partnership with NFPA, hopefully, we can reduce fire deaths from this cause."

Smoking-material fire deaths are more likely to involve a fire that begins very close to the victim. The percentage of smoking-material fatal fire victims who are "intimate" with ignition is three times the corresponding percentage for fires due to other causes, according to the report. Fatal victims of smoking-material fires are, therefore, less likely than fatal victims of other kinds of fires to be saved by strategies and technologies that react after ignition, such as smoke alarms. For many, if not most, of these victims, there is no substitute for prevention. The report further noted that one in four fatal victims is not the smoker whose cigarette started the fire.

"NFPA is leading the charge to reduce cigarette-ignited fires through its Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes," said Shannon. "NFPA was proud to partner with USFA in this effort to not only reinforce the work of the coalition but to identify additional ways to minimize loss of life and property from cigarette fires. It is clear from the report we must continue to educate smokers and their families and friends about the strategies that will have the greatest impact on this tragic ongoing loss of life."

The project recommends the use of general messages and several specific messages aimed at specific audiences. The recommended messages are:

  • If you smoke, smoke outside.
  • Wherever you smoke, use deep, sturdy ashtrays. Ashtrays should be set on something sturdy and hard to ignite, like an end table.
  • Before you throw out butts and ashes, make sure they are out, and dowsing in water or sand is the best way to do that.
  • Check under furniture cushions and in other places people smoke for cigarette butts that may have fallen out of sight.
  • Smoking should not be allowed in a home where oxygen is used.
  • If you smoke, choose fire-safe cigarettes. They are less likely to cause fires.
  • To prevent a deadly cigarette fire, you have to be alert. You won't be if you are sleepy, have been consuming alcohol, or have taken medication or other drugs.

These messages have been applied to existing USFA educational materials and are being adopted into NFPA educational messages as they come up for routine revision.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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