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London Fire Brigade urges smokers to quit during ‘Stoptober’

With winter on the way amid an unprecedented public health crisis, London Fire Brigade urges smokers to join the Stoptober movement and quit the habit – to protect themselves, their families and their neighbours.

In the five months since the lockdown period commenced*, firefighters tackled almost 640 fires caused by smoking materials. Brigade figures show that smoking-related fires in the home have increased by around 20 per cent since the lockdown was announced – even though one study suggests that one million smokers in the UK quit in the early months of the lockdown.

Between January and September this year, smoking was the second biggest single cause of fires that firefighters were called to after cooking*. In that period, four people died and 98 people sustained injuries as a result of smoking-related fires.

Smoking is one of the deadliest causes of fire, while only 10 per cent of accidental dwelling fires are due to smoking, the Brigade has recorded ‘smoking’ as a cause for almost a third of fire related deaths from 2009 to date.

During lockdown, fire crews have regularly extinguished fires caused by a cigarette thrown from a balcony and falling onto flammable materials on lower balconies. They have also noticed an increase in smoking-related fires in different rooms of a house. #Stoptober is an opportunity to step away from the habits that come with smoking and can cause fires.

Just this week, fire destroyed a sixth-floor balcony and part of the attached flat in Beckton, which was caused by the unsafe disposal of a cigarette. Part of the balcony above was also damaged by fire, though thankfully no one was hurt.

Last month a discarded cigarette is believed to have started a fire which set a motorbike alight, and destroyed it, when it fell from a Bermondsey flat onto a balcony below.

In late June, thirteen adults and five children were treated by London Ambulance Service crews at the scene of a fire at a block of flats in Kennington. A cigarette had been discarded from an upper floor and landed on combustible materials on the balcony of a first floor flat. The flat itself was damaged by fire and smoke.

With the weather turning colder, while Londoners continue to work from home and spend much more time there due to social distancing measures, there is a risk that smokers will be tempted to smoke inside their homes or on balconies.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “It’s incredibly challenging to give up smoking but we’re backing #Stoptober as research proves if you quit for 28 days then you’re five times more likely to quit for good. Giving up smoking can not only prevent fires but the health benefits are countless.

“As the weather gets chilly, more people may be tempted to smoke indoors. But as we’ve seen from recent incidents we’ve attended, this increases the risk of fire. Discarding cigarettes, without ensuring they’re completely extinguished first, not only puts yourself at risk but also your family, friends and neighbours.

Quitting the habit is a surefire way to alleviate the risk and help curb smoking being one of the highest causes of fire fatalities.”

London Fire Brigade research also shows that older people with mobility issues are at higher risk of dying in a smoking-related fire. The Brigade has advice for carers to manage this risk. Smokers, carers of smokers and non smokers alike can book a free home fire safety by visiting our website.

Smokers have an increased risk of contracting respiratory infections such as Covid-19, and are more likely to have underlying smoking-related conditions that could lead to more severe disease outcomes. It makes sense to quit now.

Brigade’s smoking safety advice

  • It’s safer to smoke outside, but make sure cigarettes are put right out and disposed of properly.
  • Never smoke in bed and avoid smoking on armchairs and sofas – especially if you think you might fall asleep.
  • Take extra care when you’re tired, taking prescription drugs or if you’ve been drinking alcohol.
  • Use proper ashtrays which can’t tip over and stub cigarettes out properly.
  • Always empty ashtrays carefully. Make sure smoking materials are out, cold and preferably wet them before throwing into a bin – never use a combustible wastepaper basket.
  • Never smoke if you use healthcare equipment like medical oxygen, an air flow pressure relief mattress or emollient creams.
  • Consider additional safety measures such as fire retardant bedding or nightwear.
  • Fit smoke alarms in any room where a fire could start in your home. In smoky or steamy rooms, like your kitchen or bathroom, a heat alarm is more suitable.
  • Always ‘know the plan’ and make sure everyone in the home knows what to do in an emergency so they can make a safe escape.