With cigarettes already the single biggest cause of fire deaths in the UK, a recent study has revealed that fake cigarettes filtering onto the market pose an even bigger danger.

Since November 2011, every cigarette sold in the EU must meet a reduced ignition propensity (RIP) requirement by having ultra-thin bands of slightly thicker fire-retardant paper at intervals down the length of the cigarette so that, once lit,   it will self-extinguish if not actively smoked. This reduces the fire risk from them being left burning in an ashtray, dropped, or from the smoker falling asleep, for example.

It is estimated that the implementation of this legislation and the creation of fire-safe cigarettes could prevent 1,800 fires, 67 fire deaths and 600 casualties a year in the UK, or one life every five days.

However, the active word above is ‘sold’, meaning sold legally. What about the increasing numbers of counterfeit cigarettes smuggled into the country as the price of legal brands continue to rise? And it is not just fake cigarettes bought in pubs or on the street which pose a risk. Raids recently conducted by trading standards officers on nine shops in Derbyshire revealed that only one of 18 samples tested features the mandatory RIP bands.

Apart from the obvious fire risk, fake cigarettes also  carry huge health risks and are even more toxic than genuine brands, often containing noxious cancer-causing chemicals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, benzene and formaldehyde, sawdust, tobacco beetles and, in some cases, rat droppings.

Consumers should therefore check the cigarettes they buy carefully. Genuine, legal packets of cigarettes or hand rolled tobacco should have the words ‘UK DUTY PAID’ on the packs. All the wording should be in English and there should be health warning messages on both the front and back of the packet.