In an effort to reduce the number of accidental fires and deaths caused by carelessly discarded cigarettes that ignite furniture or bedding, cigarettes sold in the EU must now pass a new laboratory test to ensure they are more likely to self-extinguish when not actively being smoked. To produce such a product, BAT is using cigarette paper that has been designed to incorporate 'speed bumps' along the length of the tobacco column – a relatively simple technical solution that satisfies the regulation.
Carelessly discarded cigarettes can cause fires and are currently shown in the statistics to be the largest cause of domestic fire deaths in the UK. This typically occurs through igniting bedding and furnishings while cigarettes smoulder unattended. Habits such as smoking whilst drinking alcohol in the home or lighting up in bed are responsible for one in three of all accidental house fires resulting in deaths, according to the England's Department for Communities and Local Government.
In an effort to reduce the number of accidental fires, several countries have introduced laws requiring that cigarettes meet certain fire safety standards. Such "lower ignition propensity" (LIP) legislation – sometimes referred to as "reduced ignition propensity" – first came into force in New York state in 2004, requiring that cigarettes pass a laboratory test (ASTM E2187) to see whether they self extinguish when left to smoulder on top of ten layers of filter paper substrate. Since then, all US states, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Finland have passed laws adopting similar standards.
The regulations that came into force in the EU on November 17 addressed the ignition propensity requirements outlined in the General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC. To meet the Directive's demands, the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) approved EN 16156 which sets out the safety requirements when cigarettes are tested by ISO 12863.
ISO 12863, which is referenced by EN 16156, details the standard test method that should be used to determine whether cigarettes comply with the Directive and therefore if they can be sold legally in the EU. The test involves placing a lit cigarette horizontally on a number of layers of laboratory filter paper inside a test chamber under specific temperature and humidity conditions (ISO 12863). The test is conducted on 40 cigarettes per brand, and a brand is deemed to have passed the test if at least 75% of them self extinguish before completely burning down to the butt.
But what design changes have been made to a modern cigarette to increase the likelihood of it going out when not actively smoked, instead of burning down its entire length and potentially igniting upholstery?
It has been found that it is the cigarette paper that has the biggest influence on a smouldering cigarette's tendency to extinguish. Therefore, BAT has satisfied the LIP requirements by using cigarette paper from different suppliers that has been redesigned to incorporate 'speed bumps', or bands, at intervals along its tobacco column. The idea is that if the cigarette is not actively smoked through one of these bands – if the smoker has fallen asleep, for example – the cigarette would be more likely to self-extinguish at the band.
The bands are created by adding rings of food-grade material between 5.5mm and 7mm wide and spaced between 18mm and 21mm apart on the inside of the paper. Because the rate of diffusion of oxygen through cigarette paper is one factor that determines how quickly the cigarette burns, paper manufacturers have reduced the diffusion capacity of the bands to make the cigarette more likely to self extinguish at these points. When the cigarette is placed on a substrate as stipulated in the standard test methods – as opposed to burning in free air – the cigarette will also lose heat to the material it is on, helping it to extinguish at a band.
Cigarettes that meet LIP regulations, however, continue to pose a fire risk if not properly extinguished. Although LIP regulations are designed to reduce the number of accidental fires caused by carelessly discarded cigarettes, it is clear that the standardized laboratory test conditions detailed in ISO 12863 do not mimic real-life scenarios. As a result, some suggest that cigarette-related fires may be better prevented by improving public education on fire prevention and detection, as well as introducing tougher regulations on the flammability of furniture and bedding.