Fire Safety Bill

November-25-05

John McKay M.P.

Source :  John McKay M.P.

Mr. Speaker, the role of Parliament and the government is to secure as best it can the health and safety of its citizens.  This is a Bill that does just that.

I am sure that you are familiar with the Parliamentary fire that occurred here on Feb 3, 1916 .  It started in the Reading Room where the Hall of Honour is now.  It destroyed Parliament with the exception of the Library and parts of the North and West wings.  No official cause of the fire was ever declared, but it is widely believed to have been caused by “careless smoking”.  Injury, loss of life and one of our most cherished institutions destroyed by the careless use of cigarettes.

Every year Canadians read about some horrific fire in Canada involving the loss of life, terrible injury, and substantial property damage.  Frequently the cause is described as “ careless smoking”. Someone falls asleep or leaves a cigarette unattended and the house burns down killing the children and adults in it.  It is virtually impossible to turn on the evening news without some report of a family being devastated by a fire caused by    “careless smoking.”

But is it “careless smoking” Mr. Speaker?  Cigarette companies have known for years how to eliminate death and injury by changing the density of tobacco and or making modifications to the paper.  They don’t do it because they don’t have to do it.  There is no requirement to force tobacco companies to make fire-safe cigarettes.

Now some might say that “fire–safe cigarettes” is a contradiction in terms.  But let me explain.  Changing the density of the tobacco or changing the quality of the paper will not impair the “ enjoyment” of the cigarette.  The lighting and smoking of the cigarette is not changed – what is changed is the burn if the cigarette is not puffed.  If you abandon the cigarette for a period of time it will extinguish.  If a regular cigarette is abandoned on an ashtray you will return and find nothing but ash.  If you abandon a fire–safe cigarette on an ashtray you will come back and find that the cigarette extinguished itself and all you have to do is relight it.

You can readily imagine Mr. Speaker, that if that cigarette was abandoned on a piece of furniture you may well have a disastrous situation on your hands when you return.  Even worse if you fall asleep and then wake up to find your furniture and you on fire.  Had you been smoking a fire-safe cigarette then the cigarette would have extinguished itself and no harm would be done.

So that seems to be pretty simple Mr. Speaker. Fire safe cigarettes vs. ones that are hazardous to you, your family, your property and the environment.  Looks like a good idea, so what is the problem?  Beats me Mr. Speaker, and that’s why the Bill gives the Minister a period of time to tell Parliament why she should not amend the Hazardous Products Act so that Canadians will not continue to lose their live due to hazardous smoking.

I am sure that Big Tobacco will dream up some reason or reasons why they can’t comply; however, Big Tobacco’s credibility on pretty well every issue is equivalent to that of an Enron accountant.

Interestingly Mr. Speaker, Big Tobacco had no serious objection to N.Y. legislation which mandated fire-safe cigarettes by mid-2003.  Its only objection was that it was state legislation rather than federal legislation.  That is not, of course a problem with this Bill.

The N.Y. legislators passed their bill 60 – 0. It prohibits the sale of any cigarette, which does not meet flammability standards.  It is very tough legislation.  Our N.Y. colleagues deserve our congratulations for their tough stand in the face of Big Tobacco’s unseemly influence on legislators.

The Globe and Mail, in commenting on a class-action suit filed by a lawyer representing a Brampton family devastated by a fire, summarizes the judicial reasoning: “However, the technology exists to make fire–safe cigarettes, the kind that go out quickly when not puffed.  If most manufactures prefer to make ones that burn down even when they are not being smoked, that’s their choice to make; but choices have their consequences.”  Further on in the editorial it quotes Justice Cumming, who was receiving a class action application on the issue: “ That cigarettes have a design defect, and that “ manufactures have deliberately designed the product in such a way as to cause misuse.” That’s pretty clear Mr. Speaker.

Emile Terrien from the Canada Safety Council wrote to me “ The Canada Safety Council has been a strong advocate for fire-safe cigarettes for an extended period of time.  By failing to regulate ignition properties of all cigarettes, Canada is missing a prime opportunity to prevent fires and deaths.  Without question, mandating fire-safe cigarettes will prove to be a reasonable and effective safety countermeasure.”

When I appeared before the sub – committee of Private Members Bills, I showed a CBC clip from a documentary entitled, “ Fire and Smokes”.  It’s pretty graphic.  In addition to the scenes of huge personal and family devastation there is a demonstration of two cigarettes laying on two identical pieces of furniture.  The camera is trained upon the furniture, the cigarettes and a clock behind the furniture.  The fire-safe cigarette peters out and does no harm to the furniture.  The ordinary cigarette causes the furniture to enflame after about 45 minutes.  It’s a pity that modernization won’t allow for videotapes in the Chamber.

After seeing the tape the Member from Fraser Valley commented on his experience as a logger.  Apparently loggers role their own cigarettes for this very reason.  The Tobacco is not packed as densely and the paper is not as flammable.  Therefore the loggers are not at risk of inadvertently lighting a forest fire.  So it can be done Mr. Speaker – if there is a will to do it.

This Bill will test the will of Parliament and the will of the Minister.  The Bill calls for the Minister to proclaim flammability for cigarettes by a certain date.  If she does not, then the Minister must report back to Parliament with an explanation of why not – a list of fire-safe legislation in North America and summaries of scientific studies that have been received by the Minister to establish flammability standards.

There are several options open to the Minister.  The Minister can amend the Hazardous Products Act and we can all retire for the day feeling as if we have taken a tiny step in further securing the health and well-being of all Canadians.  If, however, the Minister refuses, she had better have some good reasons.

Presumably, she could say “I like the idea, but I suggest that you amend the Tobacco Act rather than the Hazardous Products Act”.  She may be right or wrong.  I don’t know.  I went over the options with drafter very carefully, and chose this one with care.

Equally, the Minister could say “No, I’m not interested.”  While my conversations with the Minister suggest to me that she is very interested and, really, what we will be talking about is how, rather than no.  I welcome the Minister’s interest and support and would like to plant the thought that after Member’s Made their speeches, that serious considerations be given to sending this matter to Committee by unanimous consent.

While there is not an emergency, there is a matter of some urgency.  My out of date 1992 statistics show 62 fatalities, 385 injuries and $37 million in damage caused by smoking related fires.  All of the above could be completely eliminated or substantially reduced by forcing tobacco companies to meet certain flammability standards.  What M.P. or indeed what Minister is not interested in saving lives and further securing the safety of Canadians.  I keep wondering what could possibly be the objection.

It is a matter that is clearly within federal jurisdiction – we avoid the American trap of having some states with fire-safe cigarettes and some not- (be careful where you fall asleep)- it is clearly of national interest and it is of significant public interest.  Every year we let this go, more Canadians needlessly die or are injured.  The proposal is regulatory simple, the change easily feasible and well within current technology.