Safety requirement for novelty lighters advances

Cigarette lighters sold in Nebraska that resemble children’s toys would require a safety feature under a measure advanced by senators Jan. 23.

LB403, as introduced by Hastings Sen. Les Seiler, would have banned the sale of novelty lighters in Nebraska. Violation of the proposed law would be a Class IV misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.

Adopted 31-3 on the third day of debate, an amendment brought by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz changed the bill to outlaw only lighters sold without a child-proof safety feature. The amendment “keeps in mind the safety of children,” he said, “and keeps the option to sell these items where appropriate.”

The bill defines a novelty lighter as a mechanical or electrical device typically used for lighting cigarettes, cigars or pipes and designed to resemble a cartoon character, toy, gun, watch, musical instrument, vehicle, animal, food or beverage container or a similar item that plays musical notes, has flashing lights or has more than one button or function.

The law would not apply to lighters:
• manufactured prior to Jan. 1, 1980;
• incapable of being fueled or lacking a device necessary to produce combustion or flame; and
• that are disposable and printed or decorated with a logo, label, decal, artwork or heat shrinkable sleeve.

Novelty lighters being transported through Nebraska or stored in nonretail facilities in the state also would be exempt from the ban.

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 35-0, added refillable standard lighters to the proposed list of exempted devices.

Seiler said the bill would protect children from injury who might mistake a novelty lighter for a toy. The senator recounted his inspection of a tractor-shaped lighter that likely would send flames “right in the chest” of a child who played with it.

Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar supported the bill, saying children have no way of telling the difference between a toy and a dangerous item such as a novelty lighter.

“Common sense tells us that lighters that look like toys will cause harm,” he said. “They’re dangerous and not necessary.”

Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner opposed LB403, saying the responsibility of protecting children should be left to parents. He brought several technical amendments that either failed or were withdrawn.

“At what point do we stop regulating parents?” Kintner asked.

Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield said he opposed the bill because of the negative effects it could have on merchants who sell the lighters. Passing LB403 “would create another reason that makes Nebraska retail struggle,” he said.

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, who opposed the bill, introduced an amendment that would have delayed the bill’s enactment date until Jan. 1, 2015. Coash said he was concerned that a ban on novelty lighters would burden retailers with products they could no longer sell. Moving the operative date of the law would give them a chance to exhaust their supply, he added.

The amendment failed on a 17-29 vote.

Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch brought an amendment that would have prevented the sale of novelty lighters to those younger than 18. Her amendment failed 10-25.

Calling them “attractive nuisances,” Seiler compared toy-shaped lighters to other dangerous things children are drawn to, such as swimming pools. A ban on novelty lighters is no different from a law requiring pools to be surrounded by fences, he said.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers agreed.

“Children need protection of society,” he said.

Senators advanced the amended bill to select file on a 33-5 vote.

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