Joe Meinecke calls it his $50,000 lighter. Shaped like a miniature gun, it caused that amount of damage to a Tacoma family’s home when a 4-year-old played with it and set a couch on fire.
Meinecke, a public educator with the Tacoma Fire Department, uses the novelty lighter as a demonstration when he teaches children and families about fire safety.
He supports an all-out ban on novelty lighters, which are often shaped like cartoon characters, cars or animals. He says they look too much like toys.
“In Tacoma, we have 31 fires every year set by kids, on average,” Meinecke said. “If we could just eliminate these lighters altogether, then we’d be one step closer to eliminating the problem.
Meinecke could get his wish this year. A bill to ban novelty lighters is before the Washington Legislature. State lawmakers are asked to follow the lead of Maine and Tennessee, which successfully passed novelty lighter bans last year, and the European Union, which banned them in 2007.
The lighters are often sold in tobacco stores and sometimes appear near the checkstands at grocery and convenience stores.
The Washington State Association of Fire Chiefs has made banning the lighters one of its top 10 priorities for this year’s legislative session.