CLEBURNE, TX -- October 17, 2003 -- Philip Morris has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a case in which a 21-month old baby, Shannon Moore, was injured in a fire that her attorneys claim was caused by a smoldering cigarette (Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2003). The cigarette was defective, they said, because it could burn down to the filter even when it was not being puffed. Shannon was left in a car, which burst into flames when a burning cigarette fell on the car seat, according to the attorneys.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products are responsible for about 1,000 fire deaths and 4,000 burn injuries per year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Many of these fire victims are children. For many years, tobacco industry critics have sued over cigarette-caused fires without success. Until now, Philip Morris has not made large personal injury settlements.
Anti-tobacco consumer groups say that it is possible to make a "fire-safe" cigarette that will automatically go out when it is not being smoked. Indeed, Charles Cohn, one inventor of such a self-extinguishing cigarette, died in 1986 without being able to convince tobacco manufacturers of its usefulness (Tobacco Industry Conduct, K.H. Ginzel, MD). The United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare found that Mr. Cohn's fire-safe cigarette was also lower in tar and nicotine than the average non-safe cigarette (Up in Smoke: The Case for a Fire-Safe Cigarette, New York Assembly Standing Committee on Code Enforcement).
Philip Morris introduced a more fire-safe version of its Merit cigarette in 2000, six years after the suit by Shannon Moore, which involved the company's Marlboro cigarette brand. Other cigarette makers have been slow to consider or adopt fire-safe cigarettes. Consumer groups attribute this reluctance to the added profits that tobacco companies make because smokers tend to consume more cigarettes that are fast-burning.