Fake cigarettes pose an even bigger fire risk than genuine ones, which are already the single biggest cause of fire deaths in the UK, accounting for one in three house-fire fatalities and 100 deaths a year.
Since November 2011, every cigarette sold in the EU must meet a reduced ignition propensity (RIP) requirement by having ultra-thin bands of slightly thicker fire-retardant paper at intervals down the length of the cigarette so that, once lit, it will self-extinguish if not actively smoked.
This reduces the fire risk from them being left burning in an ashtray, dropped, or from the smoker falling asleep, for example.
Described as a “watershed moment for fire safety in the UK” by the Chairman of London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority’s Community Safety Committee, it is estimated that the implementation of this legislation and the creation of fire-safer cigarettes could prevent 1,800 fires, 67 fire deaths and 600 casualties a year in the UK, or 1 life every five days.
However, the active word above is ‘sold’, meaning sold legally. What about the possibly hundreds of millions of counterfeit cigarettes smuggled into the country, and smoked by increasing numbers of people as the price of the genuine article continues to rise?
In Lincolnshire, a smouldering Jin Ling cigarette, a smuggled Russian brand, is thought to have started a house fire in Spalding in which a 71-year-old woman died.
Fake cigarettes are not only sold in pubs, markets and on the street. After raids by trading standards officers on nine shops in Derbyshire, it was found that only one out of 18 samples tested featured the mandatory bands, nicknamed ‘speed bumps’, on the cigarettes.
In the first UK prosecution of its kind, a shop owner in Boston, Lincolnshire, admitted selling non-extinguishing cigarettes after trading standards seized more than 3,000 illegal Jin Ling cigarettes from his premises.
Apart from the obvious fire risk, fake cigarettes carry huge health risks and are even more toxic than genuine brands, often containing noxious cancer-causing chemicals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, benzene and formaldehyde, sawdust, tobacco beetles and, in some cases, rat droppings.
Illegal brands of cigarette that do not carry the fire-retardant bands and are widely smoked all over the UK, often in poorer communities, include Jin Ling, Pect, Excellence, New Line, Viceroy and Goal. Counterfeit versions of legitimate brands that people should look out for include Palace, Mayfair, Benson and Hedges and Regal.
Genuine, legal packets of cigarettes or hand rolled tobacco should have the words ‘UK DUTY PAID’ on the packs. All the wording should be in English and there should be health warning messages on both the front and back of the packet.