In a recently concluded study, it was established that the cigarettes sold on the Swedish market fulfil the requirements of EN 16156 for self-extinguishing cigarettes. Despite this, fire statistics and testing for various combinations of furniture show that the cigarettes are still able to ignite furniture. The question then is: does the European requirement on self-extinguishing cigarettes really serve its purpose?
Since November 2011, the EU has required that cigarettes sold within its borders must be self-extinguishing – these are so-called RIP (Reduced Ignition Propensity) cigarettes. The requirement was introduced in order to reduce the number of fires caused by cigarettes. Today, three years later, it has not produced any observable effects – in relation to both the statistics for fire-related deaths, and fire statistics in general. Thus, commissioned by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), SP has performed a study with the purpose of finding an explanation. The study involved both experiments and the gathering of experiences and data from experiments conducted in other countries which have had similar safety requirements on cigarettes for many years.
Requirements exist, but supervision of the market is lacking
Self-extinguishing cigarettes were developed to reduce the likelihood of upholstered furniture and mattresses being ignited, which constitutes the cause of a large percentage of all fire-related deaths. This is the reason self-extinguishing cigarettes are designed to go out of their own when no longer in use. This is normally accomplished by incorporating narrow paper bands inside the cigarette, which work as a kind of ‘speed bump’. The bands limit the burn rate of the cigarette and reduce the air permeability (the supply of air/oxygen) to the burning tip, in turn causing the cigarette to be more prone to self-extinguish, particularly if no one actively draws air through it.
In Europe, EN 16156 regulates the requirements on self-extinguishing cigarettes. The regulation states that no more than 25% of 40 cigarettes should burn their full length when tested on an experimental substrate consisting of 10 layers of a standardised filter paper. During testing, a cigarette is placed on the filter paper, which does not burn or glow but rather works as a cooling flange and conducts heat away from the cigarette. How long the cigarette burns then becomes a measure of how much heat is generated inside the cigarette, and so its potential for igniting materials which it comes into contact with. If the cigarette burns with a high intensity, it will continue to do so despite the loss of heat. If it burns more steadily, the loss of heat to the substrate will result in the self-extinguishing of the cigarette.
At present, there is no market control where the authorities check that cigarettes sold in the EU are, in fact, self-extinguishing. A primary objective for the project was thus to investigate whether the cigarettes sold on the Swedish market are self-extinguishing. The three cigarette brands selected for testing according to EN 16156 all fulfilled the requirements for RIP cigarettes by a wide margin.
The cigarettes burn their full length
Despite the fact that the cigarettes marketed were proven to be of the self-extinguishing type, Swedish fire investigations and statistics show that cigarettes are still causing a large number of fire-related deaths. SP performed a number of fire tests on various combinations of furniture using both RIP cigarettes, which conformed to the EN 16156 standard, and a conventional cigarette. Most of the tests were conducted according to EN 1201-1, which is the standardised testing method used to test the ability of a piece of furniture to withstand a burning cigarette. Some of the tests were performed using a modified testing method in which the burning cigarette was covered by various kinds of textile materials, such as blankets. The results clearly show that, in many cases, the so-called RIP cigarettes burned their full length. In the furniture tests which were conducted according to EN 1201-1 alone, 68% of the RIP cigarettes burned their full length, in spite of their being of a ‘self-extinguishing’ type. In several cases, the fabric and upholstering material began to smoulder. The testing method which ascertains whether a cigarette brand is self-extinguishing thus correlates poorly with reality.
The fire tests performed within the study far from cover all possible materials on the Swedish market or all of the possible configurations that may exist in reality. The point is, however, that since such a high percentage of the cigarettes burn their full length, there is naturally a risk of ignition if the combination of materials is the right one, which has been proven in these tests.
Different opinions on usage
A literature study shows that the use of self-extinguishing cigarettes has been debated both before and after the requirements were first introduced in New York in 2004. Several studies both support and speak against the use of the cigarettes. One of the most frequently employed arguments against the use of self-extinguishing cigarettes is that upholstery material, surface fabrics, and the test configuration are factors that have greater impact on ignition propensity than the actual type of cigarette. The results of SP’s fire testing support this argument.
Example of a common design for a self-extinguishing cigarette. Thin bands of paper are placed inside the cigarette and, when the burning tip of the cigarette reaches to the ‘speed bump’, the rate of combustion and the oxygen supply are reduced, in turn causing the cigarette to self-extinguish.
This article was provided by Brandposten
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