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Damaging documents expose industry evasion over fire safe cigarettes

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Up to 1000 deaths a year from cigarette fires in the Unites States might have been prevented, but for the tobacco industry’s covert opposition to legislation on safe cigarettes over the past 25 years, research on internal company documents has disclosed.

The documents made public under the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement should help federal law makers. They provide reliable evidence of the industry’s tactics, from misleading the public about the feasibility of producing a fire safe cigarette to using political means to stave off legislation while masking that fact.

Companies’ research into developing fire safe cigarettes stretches back to the late 1970s—though patents have existed since the 1930s and earlier—and shows that this is possible. Publicly, however, the industry has mounted counterarguments based variously on fear of being held liable for former (non-safe) brands, on consumers not accepting altered cigarettes, toxicity of low burn additives, and inadequacy of meaningful testing of ignition tendency. It has wooed fire service organisations at all levels—the main source of data on fire deaths—with large grants and has diverted attention away from cigarettes to overall fire safety measures by funding general fire safety programmes.

Philip Morris is the only company to have marketed a fire safe cigarette; that other companies have not demands federal legislation to force responsibility on an industry whose products are a leading cause of fire deaths in the US and an important cause globally.

About 200 company documents were used in the research.