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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire
  1. Simon Chapmana
  1. aDepartment of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Sydney [A27], NSW 2006, Australia, b

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The scene is familiar to every driver. You’re driving along at night and suddenly the driver in front discards a cigarette butt. The sparks startle as the butt glances across the road. It’s such a common sight, it barely rates a mention. But every now and then one of these butts settles, still glowing, in roadside debris and starts a fire. Fire authorities have deadpan ledger entries in their annual reports about this. For example, in 1992 there were 1525 fires in the state of New South Wales, Australia caused by discarded smoking materials—including 623 bush and grass fires and 360 fires in buildings.

Coronial and other government inquiries following the depressingly common summer month bush fires in Australia present an unprecedented opportunity for some serious action on the role of cigarettes in starting fires. In both the community rage, and the more considered thinking that choruses through the marathon radio talkback sessions during and after such fires, cigarettes are frequently discussed. Often this talk focuses on the low-life mentality of those who throw their butts out of car windows.

However, it is tragically myopic when the official reports on the cause and future prevention of bush fires also define the cigarette issue as one of thoughtlessness, only requiring some cheery ditty campaign suggesting smokers “do the right thing” …

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