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Bill Aims To Snuff Out Novelty Lighter Sales To Minors

Fire Chiefs Say Lighters Remain Major Cause Of House Fires In Wisconsin

Gilman Halsted/WPR

Fire chiefs and burn victims in Wisconsin are backing a bill that would ban the sale of novelty cigarette lighters to anyone under age 18.

The legislation targets lighters that look like toys and have been linked to fires started by children. It would require retail stores to display the lighters behind a counter that is not accessible to children.

Pittsfield Fire Chief Jeffrey Minor testified in favor of the bill this week while demonstrating how dangerous the lighters can be.

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Pittsfield Fire Chief Jeffrey Minor. Gilman Halsted/WPR

“This is my favorite actually, a fire extinguisher that blows fire and has a siren,” Minor said. “I have a major problem with that. It looks like a toy but it’s not. That’s the problem.”

More than a dozen other states have already restricted the sale of lighters like these. The trade group representing companies that make lighters has also endorsed the bill proposed in Wisconsin.

Minor said lighters in general remain the number one cause of house fires in the country. And he said that while most disposable lighters have child-proof safety features, virtually none of the novelty lighters do. They come in all shapes and sizes made to look like everything from a toy gun to a cute-looking cow.

Also testifying in favor of the bill was 22-year-old Jeff Jordan. He was six weeks old when his 4-year-old brother found a lighter in the house and lit some curtains on fire. The mobile home they were living in soon went up in flames. Jordan spent four months in the hospital, and has gone through dozens of surgeries to treat the burns over the past 20 years.

He said the bill won’t keep adults from buying the lighters: “It just keeps these things in hands of people who should be responsible for them in the first place.”

Similar efforts to pass restrictions on novelty lighters have failed to reach the floor in four previous legislative sessions beginning in 2009. The author of the most recent version, Sen. Julie Lassa said she’s surprised because she believes the bill is a “no-brainer” approach to protecting children from getting burned and reducing the number of house fires. Opposition in the past has come from legislators who see the bill as an unnecessary burden on the retail stores that sell the lighters.