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Tobacco Industry Prepares to Meet Deadline for Fire-Safe Cigarettes

CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- Cigarette manufacturers Reynolds Tobacco, Philip Morris and Lorillard are scrambling to make and ship self-extinguishing cigarettes to comply with a New York state law requiring that all cigarettes sold there after June 28 be self-extinguishing, reported the Associated Press.

The state accounted for 4.3 percent of U.S. cigarette sales in 2002, making it too large a market to abandon. But the costs and drawbacks of the new cigarettes are sufficient that the companies say they do not plan to offer them in the other 49 states.

"This is an overwhelming concern right now for us," said Ellen Matthews, a spokeswoman for Reynolds Tobacco Co. of Winston-Salem, N.C., the nation's No. 2 cigarette maker. "A tremendous amount of issues needed to be addressed, among them finding an adequate supply of banded paper. This is affecting everything we are doing."

New York's regulations call for all cigarettes sold in the state to be wrapped in the special paper, in which ultra-thin bands work like speed bumps to slow the burning of cigarettes that are not being puffed.

A lit cigarette that is dropped onto bedding or a sofa can smolder unobtrusively for as long as 30 minutes before a fire erupts. Approximately 900 Americans die each year and another 2,500 are injured by fires started by cigarettes, according to the American Burn Association and the federal government.

In theory, if a smoker lights a self-extinguishing cigarette and falls asleep or leaves the cigarette unattended, it will go out on its own after a few minutes.

Greensboro-based Lorillard Tobacco Co. has been selling self-extinguishing cigarettes in New York state since March, company spokesman Steve Watson said. "We haven't received any complaints, only a few inquiries from smokers whose cigarette self-extinguished while they were smoking them," he said.

For now, he said, the company's brands -- including Newport, Kent and True -- will be sold with the fire-safe paper only in New York.

Industry leader Philip Morris USA has been selling its Merit cigarette in self-extinguishing paper nationwide since 2000, during which time the brand's market share has shrunk.

Brendan McCormick, a spokesman for Richmond, Va.-based Philip Morris, said the company initially got complaints from Merit smokers who didn't like the fact that their cigarette went out if they didn't take regular puffs. But he said that was only one of several factors involved in Merit's decline.

McCormick said supplying banded paper for all New York-bound cigarettes will cost Philip Morris several million dollars, which the company will absorb. Matthews was unsure how Reynolds would cover its increased costs. Both companies declined to be specific about exactly how much the new cigarettes will cost them.
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