The engineers, scientists and technicians at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) do top-notch work keeping U.S. and global industries up-to-date on new standards, improving traceability, and advancing the science and tools for measurement. So, I was a little taken aback when I discovered NIST sells cigarettes. But don’t worry: It’s for a good cause.
The cigarettes, officially called NIST’s Standard Cigarette for Ignition Resistance Testing, or Standard Reference Material 1196, is used in testing mattresses, furniture and other furnishing as way to measure flammability.
Apparently, they get one lit up and put it on the cushion or drapes to see how long it takes to catch fire, if at all. (I like to think they hire a smoker to do this dangerous work, but they probably use some odd machine to get them lit.)
The cigarette gives various industries in different geographical areas a standard and consistent reference material for ensuring a product meets mandatory or voluntary federal, state or industry guidelines. The goal is laudable, and the cigarette a seemingly good idea.
Apparently, despite a drop in the total number of smokers in the U.S., the leading cause of fire deaths in homes remains smoking materials (cigarettes and pipes). One out of every 20 home fires is caused by smoking materials, and one out of every 31 home fires causes a death.
The SRM 1196 smokes are non-filtered, longer than commercial cigarettes and are made using unbanded paper. (Banded paper contains sections of less permeable paper that lowers the amount of air available to the burning tobacco. They’re prone to go out on their own unless smoked, so they are less likely to start fires.)
NIST ordered a 10-year supply in 2010, but says it ran out in eight years as more and more organizations and industries adopted regulations that called for the use of the reference cigarette. These include the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the National Fire Protection Assoc. (NFPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
To provide continuity to all these groups and their efforts at reducing fires, NISST ordered up another batch of cigarettes. They are officially called SRM1196a and are said to have all the same attributes as the SRM 1196. NIST also sells another brand, SRM 1082s, the Cigarette Ignition Strength Standard. It is geared toward cigarette companies trying to make fire-safe smokes that burn out when unattended. It has an ignition strength of 15.7% compared to the SRM 1196’s 95.6% ignition strength.)
I toyed with the idea of buying a pack or two, curious to see what kind of product the government is selling. Then I found out NIST wants $400 for two 200 cigarette cartons. So, I decide to pass. But I do wonder if NIST has a problem with them disappearing off the shelves.