NFPA Impact: Canada needs to get tough on cigarette manufacturers

February 28, 2008
Written by Sean Tracey
seantracey2On Oct. 1, 2005, Health Canada introduced the Cig­arette Ignition Propensity Regulations. This was long-fought battle championed by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. The intent was to require manufacturers to produce cigarettes that have a higher probability of self extinguishing. It was estimated that this would reduce the number of fire fatalities by as many as 70 people a year in Canada. In the U.S., the NFPA is spearheading a campaign to see similar legislation introduced in each state. Based on the success to date similar initiatives are underway in the European Union and Australia. Unfortunately, we should not be resting on our laurels in Canada as there is a flaw that needs the fire service to again engage.

In Canada, the regulation stipulates that manufacturers can sell cigarettes only if they comply with the regulations. Unlike several U.S. states where enforcement is at the point of sale, enforcement in Canada is at the manufacturing facility by Health Canada. Therefore, enforcement depends on Health Canada’s limited resources to collect samples from the manufacturers and then run tests through at the National Research Council. At the NFPA annual state and provincial fire marshals forum, a discussion was held on progress to date on this subject. Unfortunately, it has been revealed by Health Canada that a number of manufacturers continue to manufacture and sell cigarette brands that have repeatedly failed the test standard. Health Canada is somewhat limited in its ability to enforce the regulations. Therefore, there appears to be little incentive for some of the manufacturers to comply. Health Canada director Denis Choiniere revealed that the federal department is taking a three-strikes approach. In other words, a brand can fail up to three times before Health Canada takes action against the manufacturer. With limited funding and inspection resources this might mean that it could be years before the regulations are fully met, if at all. There have already been failures recorded and noted on the Health Canada website yet several companies continue to manufacture cigarettes not in compliance with the regulations and therefore continue to put Canadians at risk.

One approach that has been discussed and that has been put in place by states such as Vermont is to amend protocols for fire investigations when smoking materials are determined to be a contributing factor. In my opinion, Canadian fire departments should consider a similar approach. If a cigarette manufacturer continues to sell cigarettes that they know fail the regulations then they should be held criminally negligent for their actions if their products were proven to contribute to a fire with an injury or fatality.

The legal argument is that if a cigarette brand was determined to have been involved in a fatal fire and that brand had failed testing then the directors of the corporation could be charged under Bill C-45, which has wide powers. C-45 was introduced following the Westray mine tragedy to impose stricter requirements on corporations that act in a criminal manner. This can include jail sentences on directors of corporations who are found criminally negligent or who violate the criminal code by failing to take action to prevent a criminal act by their corporation. The fear of criminal charges against these directors may be the spark to motivate those who continue to flaunt Health Canada’s regulation. Companies knowing that the fire service had protocols to determine if their brand of cigarette contributed to a fire might find this potential liability enough incentive to change.  

Canadian fire investigation protocols should be refined in the coming months and incorporated into training. We should seek to identify the brands involved. This can be done through interviewing, statements from those involved, checking for unsmoked cigarettes found on scene or in a motor vehicle on scene, etc. then checking the brand back to the list found on the Health Canada’s website. If a particular brand was determined to be a factor and that brand has failed the tests then charges against the directors should be considered. We need to send a clear message that we need to be taken seriously. Just the act of seeking to determine the brand involved and the manufacturer’s test performance should cause a stir among those in violation of the law.

We have come a long way in seeing CIP cigarettes introduced. Unfortunately, several of the tobacco manufacturers have not respected this regulation and continue to place Canadians at risk. The fire service needs to support this hard-fought gain. Let the cigarette manufacturers know that those not in compliance shall be prosecuted.

Sean Tracey, P.Eng., MIFireE, is the Canadian regional manager of the National Fire Protection Association International and formerly the Canadian Armed Forces Fire Marshal. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .