Fire-safe cigarettes arrive in Massachusetts

Elaine Allegrini

John Cardoza of Taunton has cut down on smoking with the new fire-safe cigarettes.

“They keep going out,” said Cardoza, who has been smoking a pack a day “give or take” for nearly 30 years.

The self-extinguishing cigarettes have been on the market for several months leading up to Jan. 1, when Massachusetts became one of more than 20 states to mandate the so-called “fire-safe” smokes.

On the very day that the cigarettes were mandated in the state, a fire at a Brockton house was blamed on careless disposal of smoking materials.

It was unknown if the smoking materials in the New Year's Day blaze consisted of the new fire-safe cigarettes, fire Lt. Ed Williams said Thursday.

First, he said, suppliers are still allowed to sell the old stock of cigarettes. Secondly, he said, the New Year's Day fire that sent five residents of a two-family house to the hospital started in a plastic trash barrel.

“Even if they just flipped the ashes, the same burning can happen in a barrel of trash,” Williams said. “With the right amount of heat, the right amount of air and the right amount of fuel, anything will burn.”

Meanwhile, some smokers are reluctantly adapting to the “fire-safe” change, while others haven't noticed.

“I must not be a serious enough smoker,” said Carole Phillips of Brockton, who smokes about 10 cigarettes a day. “I haven't even noticed.”

But Elizabeth Shea of Abington, a pack-a-day smoker, has noticed.

“I don't like them,” said Shea. “The tobacco leaves are not packed as tightly and the heads fall off easily.”

Given that many people smoke outside their workplaces or other buildings and near landscaping, she said the falling ashes are likely to create more problems by igniting mulch.

Smokers may not like the cigarettes, but sales have not dropped, according to Nancy Brennan Monks, an owner of Brennan's Smoke Shop in Bridgewater.

“They will get used to them,” Monks said. “I think smokers feel a little cheated that the government didn't tell them beforehand.”

Customers complain that the cigarettes go out if they do not continually puff.

“They figure it's a promotion for the cigarette companies to get them to buy more,” Brennan Monks said.

Robert Damaris, owner of Montello News in Brockton, said customers have complained that the taste is different.

“I think honestly it's a very, very good thing,” said Damaris. “We'll probably see less burning buildings from people falling asleep.”

According to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes, improved standards for cigarette-resistant materials in furniture and mattresses, and public education also have helped cut down the number of fires caused by smoking materials and have saved many lives.

However, 700 to 900 people still die each year due to cigarette-ignited fires. And smoking materials are the No. 1 cause of fire deaths in the United States, according to the coalition.

Easton Fire Chief Thomas Stone voiced caution.

“The risk is reduced, but it's not eliminated,” said Stone, who recalled that two people died in Easton in the past 10 years from smoking-related fires.

Last year, a homeless man died in Brockton after falling asleep on a bed of pine needles that were ignited by the cigarette he was smoking, said Williams of the Brockton Fire Department.

Elaine Allegrini can be reached at

The Enterprise