Published on October 31, 2013.

Outreach - November / December 2013

The U.S. Farm Bill, which is passed every five years or so, contains many of the laws that govern our food supply. Because the bill touches so many areas, it generates a lot of interest in Congress. While many members of the House and Senate are in a hurry to get the new farm bill done before current authorizations in the bill expire, the bills passed by the two chambers each express different priorities, one of which could interfere with an important breakthrough in the fight against residential fires — “fire-safe” cigarettes.

One of the many amendments added to the House version of the bill addresses the power of a state to impose its agricultural and food-related regulations on agricultural products produced in another state. The genesis of this amendment: Chicken coops. As some states have moved toward requiring larger coops, farmers in other states want to ensure they will have access to those states’ markets without having to build bigger houses for their chickens.

NFPA does not have a stake in the chicken coop debate, but the language in the amendment is broad and not limited to chickens. It says that a state or local government cannot “impose a standard or condition on the production or manufacturer of any agricultural product [produced in another state and] sold ... in interstate commerce” that is in addition to Federal law or the law where the product was produced. “Any agricultural product” could be read to extend to cigarettes, since they contain tobacco. If one state repeals its fire-safe cigarette law, or loosens it in any way, its cigarettes could then be legally sold nationwide, opening the door for a weakening of fire-safe cigarette laws. This consequence, though likely unintended, is troubling for those of us who work in the fire safety community.
Through the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes, NFPA led the campaign to require all cigarettes sold in the U.S. to meet the standard for reduced ignition propensity. Fires started by cigarettes have been a leading cause of fire-related fatalities in the U.S., and for many years NFPA supported federal legislation to address this issue. Working at the state level, NFPA and its allies convinced the states to require that all cigarettes sold comply with fire-safe cigarette standards.

The effort produced a resounding public-safety success. Since fire-safe cigarette requirements took effect — all 50 states currently have fire-safe cigarette laws on the books — cigarette-related fire fatalities have declined dramatically. The latest NFPA report on smoking-related fires finds that fire-safe cigarettes are a major contributor to a 30-year low in smoking material fire deaths. The data show that state fire-safe cigarette laws work and have had a major impact in addressing the nation’s fire problem. That’s why we’re concerned that an unintended outcome of the farm bill could reverse that downward trend in cigarette-related fire deaths.

NFPA’s government affairs office has joined with other fire service organizations to express our concern to the conference committee and staff that this bill may negatively impact fire safety. We’re working to make sure this provision dies in the conference committee, where the House and Senate members must agree on a final version of the bill to pass and send to the President. We will continue to monitor the progress of the bill and do what we can to stop any unintended consequences from contributing to the nation’s fire problem.

Gregory Cade is division director of Government Affairs for NFPA.