Contraband cigarettes linked to a ‘staggering’ number of fires

Careless use of contraband cigarettes is a leading cause of fires, injuries—​even fatalities—in London, Ont.

That’s according to the London Fire Department, which began tracking fires related to contraband cigarettes this year.

So far, 2018 has seen:

  • 17 fires
  • Two serious injuries
  • $1.6 million in damages

All of which were related to contraband cigarettes.

“[The numbers are] pretty staggering,” said Jack Burt, acting deputy chief.

During his time as a fire investigator, Burt said he noticed a number of fire deaths where contraband cigarettes were present at the scene.

He started digging into the facts, and realized that four out of five smoking-related deaths in London since 2014 were directly related to contraband cigarettes.

t’s all about the way they’re made, Burt said.

Since 2005, all legal cigarettes in Canada have been made with “reduced ignition propensity materials,” which self-extinguish when you stop smoking them.

Contraband cigarettes, on the other hand, burn right down to the filters.

“That’s where we have the problem,” Burt said.

“You couple that with careless smoking actions, you drop a cigarette in a chair, the cigarette doesn’t self-extinguish and then it causes it to start a fire.”

Burt says the cigarettes are coming from First Nations in southwestern Ontario as well as Asian countries such as China and India.

In the 10 years after Canada enforced the rule on self-extinguishing cigarettes, there was a 30 per cent drop in fire deaths associated with cigarette smoke, Burt said. Even so, cigarette smoking remains the number one cause of fire deaths in Canada.

“It’s still a very dangerous act,” Burt said.

“People need to be cognizant of the fact that if they’re smoking, they should be smoking outside. If you are smoking inside, make sure you have a deep enough ashtray that you can put it out, and make sure you put it out, right out, every time.”

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