In North Carolina, a six-year-old boy sustained second-degree burns after playing with a lighter that
looked like a toy cell phone.
In Maryland, playground equipment was set on fire by three five-year-old girls using a gun-shaped lighter.
In Oregon, one child died and another was permanently brain damaged after a six-year-old, playing with a lighter that looked like a toy dolphin, started a fire. In another incident, a mother was severely burned after her child, playing with a lighter that resembled a Christmas tree, ignited the mother’s bed.
In Arkansas, two young boys recently died after their apartment caught fire. News reports said the children had been playing with a motorcycle-shaped lighter in which the flame came out of the exhaust pipe.
There are no hard and fast numbers on just how serious a problem these toy-looking lighters have become. But certainly incidents like these have been disturbing enough to prompt the National Association of State Fire Marshals to call for a ban on the sale and use of these novelty lighters during its annual meeting.
The lighters come in all shapes and sizes and their most common characteristic is that they look like anything but a lighter. They can be made to look like a soda can, a toy car or gun, a ladybug or frog, a felt-tip pen and even a rubber ducky.
The European Union banned the sale of novelty lighters in March 2007; it’s now time for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to follow suit, the fire marshals said in a recently passed resolution. As Oregon state fire marshal Nancy Orr wrote to the CPSC, “there are no good reasons that lighters should be manufactured to resemble toys.”
Current CPSC safety standards, adopted in 1994, require all cigarette lighters to be child resistant. The cigarette lighter safety standard requires disposable and novelty lighters to have a child-resistant mechanism that makes lighters difficult for children younger than age five to operate.
Fire and industry officials say that some of the novelty lighters meet these standards, some don’t. But even those that do meet the standards are attractive to children because of their fun shapes and bright colors.
The Lighter Association, which represents the major lighter manufacturers, is also opposed to novelty lighters. “We think they serve no purpose and are likely attractive to children,” said David H. Baker, the association’s general counsel. However, Baker said his members have an even bigger safety concern: the lack of general safety standards for all disposable lighters in the U.S. The lighter association has been pressing the CPSC to adopt such standards since 2001.
“We are the only country in the western world that doesn’t have a general safety standard for lighters,” he said. So far, the CPSC staff has been reluctant to endorse a mandatory standard, saying that the risk of death or injury from lighter malfunctions was low given the number of lighters on the market.
The issue of novelty lighters doesn’t appear to have changed the CPSC’s stance so far. Agency spokeswoman Julie Vallese told us, “We do know that children are attracted to them, see it as a play value, because of their design and shape … That’s why the enforcement of child-resistant lighters is important.” Even more important Vallese added, “parents should ensure children be kept away from these lighters.”
But will the agency consider issuing a ruling on these lighters? “At this time, I don’t think so," Vallese said.
Does it seem odd that the CPSC doesn't feel a need to change the regulations? Maybe the issue isn't that the lighters are unsafe when they meet the standard but instead some of the novelty items aren't meeting the requirements?
If that's the case - why would we need additional regulation? In addition to adding to the general morass of laws and regulations to this country it does nothing to address the factor of personal responsibility.