Assistant deputy fire chief Jack Burt

London Deputy Fire Chief Jack Burt (DEREK RUTTAN, The London Free Press)

Contraband cigarettes, with none of the self-extinguishing features of legal brands, tied to recent London house fires

London deputy fire chief Jack Burt isn’t against smoking, if done safely.

But careless smoking that leads to house fires, especially involving contraband tobacco, is something else.

It happened twice last month — fires that destroyed separate homes in London, the losses running to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We found evidence of contraband cigarettes” at both scenes, Burt said of the Jan. 20 and Jan. 30 fires Friday.

Both raised suspicions that the fires had been caused by contraband tobacco use, which were confirmed after talking to building occupants.

“The way a cigarette starts a fire is particularly nasty,” said Neil Collishaw, research director for Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

A typical scenario is a tired resident having a few drinks before turning in for the night. They then have a smoke. “And they drop a cigarette down in the cushions of the couch,” Collishaw said. The smoker then heads to bed, but that’s not the end of the story because the cigarette is still smouldering.

“The couch can literally explode and then the whole house burns down in a matter of minutes,” Collishaw said.

“That is not an uncommon occurrence.”

The January blazes in London involved Canada Goose and Putters, both brands of illegal cigarettes. Burt says four of the last five fire deaths in London since 2014 involved similar brands. “I think the public needs to know,” he said.

Legal smokes have materials to ensure what’s called “reduced ignition propensity.” Regulations passed in 2005 mandate that cigarette makers must include safety measures that cause cigarettes ‘to self-extinguish,” Burt said.

Typically, they come with three alternating thick and thin bands, or ridges.

“There’s several ways of making cigarettes fire-safe,” Collishaw said.

Burt’s warning Friday comes a day after Gary Grant, spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, visited London to urge a crackdown on illegal smokes.

Ontario is Canada’s epicentre for illegal cigarettes, the source of the knock-offs being First Nations communities in Ontario, Quebec and along the U.S. border, said Grant.

“It’s not exactly under the radar. Everybody knows what’s going on,” Collishaw added.

Lower-priced contraband smokes — smuggled into the country, or made in Canada and sold illegally — have been a frequent problem for governments, undermining their hefty tax take on cigarettes and government measures to use taxation to discourage smoking.

Hand-rolled cigarettes, whether they contain tobacco or marijuana, likewise do not come with fire safety features.

Has Collishaw ever heard of a marijuana joint causing a fire?

“I haven’t heard of it, but I would be very surprised if it had not happened. They are certainly dangerous,” he said.

Source: Illegal smokes pack fire risk | the London Free Press