Investigators are to scan cigarette packaging found in the scenes of fatal house fires in Lancashire in a bid to trace the supply of illicit tobacco.
Discarded cigarettes are the biggest cause of fatal fires in the county, and fire chiefs fear it is a matter of time before the county’s black market trade in tobacco leads to a tragedy as illegal cigarettes smoulder for longer than legal products.
In November new regulations meant all cigarettes have to be manufactured to be “fire safer” with small bumps in the paper making it harder - though not impossible - for the cigarette to smoulder if discarded.
But the paper of illegal cigarettes is continuous and will carry on burning.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service is working alongside Lancashire Police and Trading Standards after each fatal house fire to identify if illicit cigarettes are the cause.
So far scanned packets seized from death scenes have all been legally bought - but fire officers fear it is only a matter of time before they find one.
Protection Support Manager Mark Hutton said: “ It’s really quite shocking to think potentially a family could die in a house blaze sparked by an illicit cigarette.
“All cigarettes pose a fire risk, even the fire safe ones aren’t guaranteed to prevent a fire, but they at least give people a chance. The illicit cigarettes could be dropped in clothing or bedding and smoulder for a few hours before getting enough oxygen to catch alight, so the blaze could happen hours later depending on the conditions.”
He urged all homeowners to fit smoke alarms and added: “In fires triggered by cigarettes there is usually quite a bit of smoke first which would be detected by a working smoke alarm.”
The Don’t Let Them Make a Packet Campaign is raising awareness of the black market trade and calls for tougher penalties on dealers.
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