State Senate Considers Banning Novelty Lighters For Minors

Toy-like Lighters Would Need To Move Behind Counter

novelty cigarette lighter in the shape of a cow
A novelty lighter in the shape of a cow. Photo: rogergordon (CC-BY-NC-SA)

The state Senate is considering a bill that would ban the sale of novelty lighters to minors.

Gerald Minor is the chief of the Pittsville Fire Department. He points to recent Wisconsin data showing that lighters are the leading cause of fires caused by juveniles. Minor urges lawmakers to be proactive about the problem that has already caused tragedies.

“We need your help to bring this article to the forefront of the Legislature and make it illegal in Wisconsin for anyone to buy a novelty lighter under the age of 18,” Minor says.

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Novelty lighters are defined in the bill as lighters designed to resemble toys or to appeal to juveniles. Examples Minor has that he displayed during a public hearing this week include lighters that look like cows, guitars, and fire extinguishers.

Minor says he’s been trying to pass the bill for six years. It got its start in 2008, when a group of second-graders, including Minor’s granddaughter, were inspired by an article about the dangers of lighters and were encouraged to write letters to lawmakers about the issue.

Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) is a sponsor of the bill, which she calls “commonsense.” In addition to making it illegal to sell novelty lighters to minors, the legislation also requires retailers to move the devices to an area that’s not accessible to the public.

“Like where they keep cigarettes behind the counter,” Lassa said.“That will help make sure that they’re not selling these novelty lighters to minors.”

During the bill’s hearing, one lawmaker wondered why the bill doesn’t go further to cover all lighters. Lassa says novelty lighters were targeted because they look so much like toys. She thinks the bill’s sponsors would be open to a broader bill, but says there might be pushback from some retailers.

The bill has been voted out of committee by the Assembly. Since 2008, 16 states have passed novelty lighter legislation.