The chairman of a House subcommittee yesterday criticized the Consumer Product Safety Commission for failing to ensure the safety of disposable cigarette lighters.
Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.) also released the findings of a safety commission study that showed that lighters made by Bic Corp. and other companies fail to meet voluntary industry safety standards.
The safety commission found that 29 percent of adjustable Bic lighters produced flames as high as five to six inches, compared to a limit set by the industry that allows 10 percent of lighters to produce flames that high. Another 2.3 percent of Bics tested flamed more than six inches, although the industry mandates that no more than 1 percent can exceed that limit.
Florio also cited a 1985 Canadian government study that found 39 percent of Bic lighters exceeded the industry maximum flame height of six inches.
Florio said the voluntary standards set by disposable lighter makers are questionable and do not address the problem of childproofing. Florio said the industry standards are both weaker than they should be and are ignored by manufacturers.
About 200 deaths annually are attributed to fires started by cigarette lighters. Of these, 140 were caused by children playing with the lighters, according to Florio, and two-thirds of the deaths were children under the age of five.
In a statement, Bic -- which has sold 2 billion lighters in this country and 6 billion worldwide since 1973 -- said it is trying to design a lighter that is both childproof and convenient. Until it is successful, the company said, it will put warning labels on every lighter it makes this year. Bic said that no more than 25 lawsuits have been brought against it in any year.
Last year, Bic paid $3.25 million to a Philadelphia woman who was burned extensively when a Bic lighter ignited in her pocket. A jury found the company negligent.
After news reports in April that Bic faced as many as 1,000 lawsuits worldwide over lighters that allegedly malfunctioned and burned spontaneously, Florio ordered the safety commission and the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, consumer protection and competitiveness -- of which he is chairman -- to study the problem.