Playing With Fire

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report_from_trentonBy Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski

On Sept. 27, 2007, 2-year-old Breydon Edwards and 15-month-old Peyton Edwards of Russellville, Arkansas, found a motorcycle-shaped lighter in their home. While playing with what to them appeared to be a toy vehicle, they accidentally set a blaze in their apartment that tragically cost both of them their lives.

I wish I could say that this was just an isolated incident.  Unfortunately, it is not.  Reports involving children, novelty lighters and accidental fires continue to surface from all around the country.  In North Carolina, a 6-year-old boy sustained second-degree burns after playing with a lighter that looked like a cell phone.  In Oregon, one child died and another suffered permanent brain damage after a 6-year-old, playing with a lighter resembling a toy dolphin, started a fire.  The list of sad stories like these goes on and on.  

I have chosen to write about this issue not to upset you, but to point out the very clear need for better regulations regarding the manufacture and distribution of novelty lighters.   I’m not talking about regular plain lighters that are used to light barbecue grills or cigarettes.  I am talking about lighters that look like toys.  Perhaps to an adult these lighters don’t look like toys and there is no danger.  But for many children, the realization that it is not a toy often comes too late at too high of a cost.

Currently fires and burns are the 5th most common cause of unintentional injury and deaths in the United States and in a recent report, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimated that in a single year, there were 13,900 reported fires started by children in the U.S.  Those incidents alone were responsible for the loss of 210 lives, 1,250 injuries, and $339 million in property damage.

Fires that are accidentally started by children are done so with lighters or matches.  Children are particularly drawn to these types of lighters because they appear to be toys.  They can be brightly colored.  Some are modeled to look like animals, cameras, vehicles, doll accessories and other toys.  Some have flashing lights and make sounds just like the items that children would normally play with.  These lighters are attractive to children because they are naturally curious and these lighters look just like any other plaything.  Taking into account their normal behavior to want to play with items that look like toys, the risk of injury or death is a very real concern any time one of these lighters are within reach.

I am currently working on legislation that would restrict the retail sale of novelty lighters.  It is my hope that this legislation will have a positive impact on what has been an alarming list of child injuries and fatalities.  Not surprisingly, opposition has arisen.  There are some people who think they should be allowed to sell whatever they want, no matter how dangerous it may be.  I disagree with them.  In my opinion, there is no good reason that lighters should ever be made to look like toys and we ought to do something to protect our children.

For more information on fire safety legislation or any other legislative matter or state program, please contact my legislative office at (732) 316-1885 or visit my web site: www.assemblymanwisniewski.com.


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