Health and Family Proposals A Safer Cigarette

About a practical proposal to make cigarettes safer by making them self-extinguishing.



A Safer Cigarette

A self-extinguishing cigarette could save 2,000 lives, prevent 4,000 injuries, and avoid $180 million in property losses which occur each year in the U.S. as a result of 70,000 smoking-related fires. Four bills have been introduced in Congress during the past five years which would require cigarettes to be self-extinguishing. The Tobacco Institute, which represents the American cigarette industry, can't seem to make up its mind on the issue. In 1980 spokeswoman Ann Browder said these bills were "based on untested and highly questionable assumptions that such a cigarette can even be produced." At approximately the same time, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who sponsored one of the bills, was told by representatives of the institute and the Philip Morris Company that "manufacturing self-extinguishing cigarettes would be a relatively easy thing to start doing." The problem, according to another institute spokesman, Walker Merryman, is that the output of tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide is boosted in this type of cigarette, and in saving "an insignificant number" of lives, the industry "would be increasing the number of people who could contract lung and heart disease." None of the institute's spokespersons has mentioned that a business whose profits are tied into billions of "idling" cigarettes stands to lose money marketing one that will last longer because it won't burn continuously for up to 45 min.

Enter 78-year-old Charles Cohn, a New Jersey inventor who has patented a cigarette that puts itself out in two to three minutes, releases 25% less tar and nicotine with each drag than ordinary cigarettes, is smokeless between draws, and has fewer ashes to fall on clothing and furniture. In addition, Cohn's cigarette delivers extra puffs and satisfies even the most discriminating smoker. Nonsmokers will be happy to hear that this amazing cigarette produces 65% less of the harmful side-stream smoke that is the primary component of the traditional smokefilled room.

Cohn paints the paper of his "safe" cigarettes with three strips of a compound he calls Colite, commonly known as water glass (sodium silicate). Chemically inert Colite is "clear, nontoxic, noncarcinogenic, nonirritating, nonallergenic, tasteless, odorless, and inexpensive," costing only 3/100 of a cent to coat a pack. When a treated cigarette is lit, the Colite melts and forms a cage which insulates the ash and makes the tobacco burn cooler and slower.

Charles Cohn started inventing when he was fresh out of high school and has received 34 patents, most of them in the field of metallurgy. Twenty years of research devoted to making cigarettes less dangerous began "when my son went to private school and took up the habit. Neither my wife nor I smoke, but he was smoking like a chimney. I said to myself, 'My goodness, here's a boy who might be doing himself harm.'" After designing a better filter, Cohn began considering the safety angle. None of his patents, including the seven related to cigarettes, has made him a millionaire, and he and his wife Rose continue to live in the Atlantic City row house that has been their home since 1952. Cohn can't understand why the cigarette industry isn't interested in his self-extinguishing model, which has been tested and praised by several government agencies, including the National Bureau of Standards and the U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare. When he approached the six major companies with his concept, "they said they have their own research departments to do things like this." Undaunted, the self-made scientist went back to his drawing board. His latest idea? The childproof match.

--L. Sc.

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