ALBANY — Those novelty lighters at checkout counters that look like guns, cars, toys, tiny fire extinguishers and even SpongeBob SquarePants are being snuffed out in New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill into law that prohibits the sale of the items often displayed near cash registers at convenience stores, hardware stores and other retailers. The lighters range from small toy-like bodies with whistles and buzzers to larger M-16 military rifle replicas. Others are lighters that are part of wrist watches or play music or flash lights.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who sponsored the bill, said the goal is to keep the lighters away from children who come across them at home and play with them, creating a fire hazard.
"These are the types of bills that don't make headlines, bu they are the types of things that can prevent a terrible tragedy from happening," the Bronx Democrat said in an interview Monday. "Little kids are drawn to these novelty lighters not because they are lighters, but because they look like guns, or cars or even fishing poles ... there's no reason for them to exist."
The New York Public Interest Research Group and several firefighter organizations called for the bill last December in an annual event that highlights dangerous products and toys.
New York retailers will have 90 days to stop selling the impulse items. Manufacturers or importers of the devices often made abroad will face civil penalties of up to $10,000, retailers can face a $500 civil penalty for each lighter.
New York joins at least 14 states including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois as well as the European Union which have banned novelty lighters.
The U.S. Fire Administration supports the bans. The Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled thousands of the lighters since 1996 for hazardous defects.
Dinowitz had cited a case in Arkansas were two boy died in 2007 in a fire set by a motorcycle-shaped lighter.