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NIST Releases a New Standard Cigarette for Testing the Flammability of Mattresses and Furniture

In efforts to reduce the number of deaths from smoking-related fires, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a new supply of a specially designed cigarette used as an ignition source for measuring the flammability of soft furnishings such as mattresses and upholstered furniture. 

Even though the number of smokers in the U.S. has decreased over the years, fires started by smoking materials such as cigarettes and pipes remain the leading cause of fire deaths in homes. According to the National Fire Protection Association, one out of every 31 smoking-related home fires in the U.S. results in death, and one out of every 20 home fires is started by smoking materials. More than 75% of smoking-related fire deaths are caused by fires that start in the living room or bedroom.

To combat this problem, regulatory and testing standards require the soft furnishings in these rooms, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, to resist ignition — or catching on fire — from a lit cigarette. The cigarette used in these tests has long been NIST’s Standard Cigarette for Ignition Resistance Testing, known to many as Standard Reference Material (SRM) 1196. 

In efforts to reduce deaths from smoking-related fires, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a new supply of a specially designed cigarette (SRM 1196a, Standard Cigarette for Ignition Resistance Testing) that ignites soft furnishings such as mattresses and upholstered furniture in order to test their flammability.

“SRM 1196 is the stable and reliable ignition source that is needed for us to be confident in these tests and in designing products to meet fire safety requirements year after year,” said NIST researcher Rick Davis.

For these tests, SRM 1196 is typically placed on a mattress, a piece of upholstered furniture or furniture components to verify if these items have been manufactured to meet mandatory and voluntary federal, state or industry guidelines for resistance to ignition by burning cigarettes.  

When NIST released its original supply of SRM 1196 cigarettes in 2010, it was expected to last more than a decade. However, it only lasted eight years because organizations increasingly adopted fire regulations and testing standards that required or recommended the use of SRM 1196. For instance, the SRM has been used in American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) testing standards, by the California Bureau of Household Goods and Services, and in Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulations. 

The newly produced supply of this standard ignition cigarette is named SRM 1196a. It’s designed to be a replica of its predecessor, SRM 1196. 

“The manufacturers of soft furnishing products spent more than a decade designing to a test using SRM 1196,” Davis said. “We felt it was critical to the sustainability of the market and for maintaining fire safety that SRM 1196a have all the same attributes as SRM 1196.” 

Trying to find a manufacturer to meet these physical specifications proved to be a significant challenge. SRM 1196a is different from current commercial cigarettes in that it is unfiltered, has a longer tobacco column and uses unbanded paper to help ensure it’s a strong ignition source. Banded paper contains sections of less permeable paper to reduce the amount of air that is available to the burning tobacco and causes the cigarette to extinguish itself unless the user puffs on it. Unbanded paper lacks these sections and allows the cigarette to continue to burn.

According to manufacturers, these differences, especially the lack of a filter, were significant, and would result in serious downtime in order to reconfigure their cigarette production equipment. “Fortunately, we found a manufacturer who was successful in replicating SRM 1196 properties in the new SRM 1196a,” said Davis. “It has a similar ignition strength, tobacco column length and mass, uses unbanded paper, and has no filter.”

SRM 1196a is now available, and organizations wishing to order the SRM can visit the NIST SRM page. NIST collaborated with the CPSC on the development of SRM 1196 and 1196a. 

NIST also provides another standard reference cigarette, SRM 1082 or Cigarette Ignition Strength Standard, which helps manufacturers produce “fire-safe” cigarettes that burn out on their own when unattended. 

Released February 19, 2020, Updated May 18, 2020