The changes are about reducing ignition propensity (RIP), ie the ability of an unattended cigarette to ignite things like furniture and bedding materials and start house fires.
Cigarette paper manufacturers have achieved this by changing their paper production to insert two rings of thicker paper at two points along the cigarette. If the cigarette is left unattended, the burning tobacco will hit one of these rings and should then self-extinguish because the ring restricts the oxygen supply.
This safety measure is already in place in some countries (US, Canada and Australia), as well as Finland since April 2010.
The experience from Finland where the number of victims of cigarette-ignited fires has fallen by 43%, suggests that nearly 500 lives could be saved in the EU every year.
Cigarettes left unattended are one of the leading causes of fatal fires in Europe and accounted for more than 30,000 fires annually in the EU between 2003-2008, with more than 1,000 deaths and over 4,000 injuries. In the United Kingdom, smokers' materials were the most frequent source of accidental fire deaths in 2007, accounting for over a third. For every 1,000 related fires, 33 people were killed, according to UK government statistics .
EU national authorities will be responsible for enforcement.
In 2008 the European Commission defined the safety requirements, following discussion with member states, the tobacco and paper industries and NGOs. The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) was then asked to develop the relevant standards which national authorities will use to measure compliance with fire safety rules.
The new standards have been drawn up under the General Product Safety Directive which obliges producers to place only safe products on the market.
Protecting citizens from fire hazard
It must be stressed that tobacco is the largest avoidable health risk in Europe causing the death of more than an estimated half a million people in the EU each year.
The Commission remains committed to a "smoke-free Europe" and addresses this issue via its on-going EU "Ex-smokers are unstoppable" campaign (see IP/11/710 and MEMO/11/405).
For more information, please contact the London press office on 020 7973 1971.
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