Topeka — Firefighters and health officials Tuesday called for new restrictions aimed at keeping cigarette lighters out of the hands of children.
“Too many children have access to cigarette lighters because the lighters are displayed in stores where children can easily see them, reach them, take them or purchase them,” said state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita.
She told the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee that she has seen cigarette lighters displayed next to candy on low shelves at checkout counters in many stores.
Her bill, Senate Bill 106, would make it illegal for a retailer to sell cigarette lighters to anyone under 18 and also make it illegal for anyone under 18 to have a lighter. Any person violating the measure would be subject to a $25 fine and court costs.
Retailers also would be required to keep the lighters out of reach, probably behind the counter.
“In our fire prevention efforts, we feel that there is absolutely no reason for any child under the age of 18 to have free access to or possess a cigarette lighter or any open flame device,” said Lt. Mark Chairs of the Wichita Fire Department.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby also supported the bill. He said that from 2002 to 2006, 1,285 fires were set by children, resulting in five deaths, 51 civilian injuries and 10 firefighter injuries, with more than $7.5 million in property losses.
But a representative of convenience stores said the proposed legislation added another layer of regulation and didn’t fix the problem.
Tom Palace, executive director of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said the bill had several problems. He said it didn’t define cigarette lighter, and it forced clerks to ask for identification for someone purchasing “a 99 cent Bic lighter.”
He said many convenience stores didn’t have any space left behind the counter because of all the items they are required to place there, such as cigarettes and certain cold medicines.
And while firefighters and KDHE voiced support for the bill, the Kansas Fire Marshal’s Office opposed it, saying it didn’t have the $248,000 start-up costs to conduct the proposed required inspections.
State Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, also voiced concerns, saying that the way the bill was written, if a youngster started a fire with a cigarette lighter then he or she couldn’t be charged with arson, but the lesser crime of possessing a lighter.
The committee took no action on the measure.