Australia Could See New Rules About Safe Cigarettes

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Australian officials said Friday they
want to fast-track rules making cigarettes less likely to ignite
fires as part of the government's response to this month's
wildfires that killed at least 209 people.

It is not known if smoldering butts were responsible for causing
any of the more than 400 fires that ripped across southern Victoria
state, but research shows they are one of many factors blamed for
previous blazes.

The Feb. 7 disaster was one of Australia's worst, destroying
more than 1,800 homes as the fires scorched 1,500 square miles
(3,900 square kilometers) of forests and farms. More than 7,000
people were displaced.

Parliament in September passed laws that require cigarette
makers to change the paper and chemical additives used in their
products so they will stop burning quickly once discarded, but they
are not due to take effect until March 2010.

Consumer Affairs Minister Chris Brown wants to speed up the
implementation, his spokesman James Cullen said.

Laws requiring so-called "fire-safe" cigarettes have come into
effect in most U.S. states since 2004, as well as in Canada, and
Britain is considering introducing similar rules, according to an
Australian government report on the new regulations.

Australia's largest cigarette manufacturer, British American
Tobacco Australia Ltd., said companies need time to switch
production under the new rules and that the 2010 start date in
Australia was a compromise set by the government in consultation
with the tobacco industry.

The company would have to discuss any new deadline with the
government before commenting on whether it opposed the change,
spokeswoman Louise Warburton said.

She said her company must introduce new technology to its Sydney
factory and import its paper from a different supplier to meet the
new standards. She did not expect retail prices to change.

Most cigarettes available in Australia are manufactured locally
from imported tobacco.

The government-backed Australian Institute of Criminology says
there are about 60,000 forest fires in Australia each year, and
about half of them are deliberately set or suspicious. Other causes
are lightning strikes and sparks from power tools.

The government estimates that 7 percent of wildfires in Victoria
are caused by cigarettes or matches.

One man has been charged with deadly arson in connection with
the Feb. 7 blazes and police say they suspect at least one other
fire was deliberately set. A huge police investigation is under

Two weeks after the disaster, firefighters are still battling a
handful of blazes in Victoria, though none were threatening homes.

Residents and repair crews are moving back into destroyed towns,
as police complete their search for bodies in more areas. Police
added one new confirmed victim to the death toll, which is expected
to rise further but not dramatically.

Also Friday, police charged a woman with fraud after she sought
a 10,000 Australian dollar ($6,400) government payment for victims
by falsely claiming her father was killed in the fires.

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