Novelty lighter ban enflames one senator

Print More

Sen. Barry Glassman holds a lighter shopped as a doll's handbag.

Debate lit up the Senate Wednesday over an attempt to ban lighters shaped as cartoon characters or other objects that might appeal to youngsters.

The bill is part of a national effort by fire marshals and fire chiefs to keep lighters out of the hands of children.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, Howard-Carroll, wound up debating two of his Republican colleagues in his usual attempt to keep the state from over-regulating the lives of its citizens and businesses.

Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll-Baltimore counties, floor leader of the bill for the Judicial Proceedings Committee, admitted that there have been no fires in Maryland caused by the lighters. But fire officials estimated that 23% of the fires in Howard County, Kittleman’s home base, were caused by children.

In questioning, Getty conceded that if the bill passed, novelty lighters could still be bought on the internet or in a neighboring state.

Kittleman sought to simply put a warning label on the lighters instead of banning them. But Getty said a label wouldn’t work “until our three- or four-year-olds can read.”

That amendment went down in flames on a voice vote.  “I didn’t want to embarrass you by calling for a roll call,” Senate President Mike Miller joked from the podium.

Kittleman then wanted to require that the lighters had to be stored out of the reach of children. He sounded like the only senator voting for the amendment in a voice vote that snuffed that attempt.

“I understand that the senator from District 9 wants to love this bill to death,” Getty said.

Despite the levity, Sen. Barry Glassman, the bill’s sponsor, said it had a serious purpose. He cited at least one example where children thought they were playing with cell phones. They were actually playing with lighters, and “set their hair on fire.”

Finally, Kittleman proposed to add to the measure a ban on matches that portrayed cartoon characters, since he said children are more likely to use matches to start a fire. But Getty said it is much harder for a child to strike a match than to use novelty lighters with no safety locks.

Kittleman insisted on a recorded vote on this amendment, but it failed 5-42. Miller said Kittleman now could tell who his friends in the Senate were.

The bill faces a final vote in the Senate this week. The same bill has had a hearing in a House committee, which has taken no action.

–Len Lazarick