Don’t Light the Fuse

Posted Feb. 09, 2011, at 5:18 p.m.

A proposal to repeal Maine’s prohibition on the sale of fireworks may be an expression of the new Republican majority’s impetus to roll back state government’s reach. If so, it is an ill-considered case with which to assert that philosophy. The proposal should be quickly squelched.

Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor, submitted the bill, LD 83. A similar bill two years ago failed to win passage. He argues that fireworks are already coming here, being purchased in nearby states, and that Maine businesses might as well get the revenue. Rep. Damon also says if the sales were taxed, they could create a fund to pay for fireworks safety education.

Though fireworks certainly make their way to Maine from other states in the trunks of cars, there is clear evidence that their use is — and should be — limited by current law. The more explosive devices are especially dangerous, causing injuries to eyes and fingers and diminishing hearing. As long as they remain illegal in Maine, there will be fewer fireworks here and therefore fewer of these types of injuries.

In July 2009, a then-state legislator was charged with possessing banned fireworks. Law enforcement officers said the legislator tried to use his office to deter enforcement. The incident received a lot of media attention, which brought the law to the attention of many in Maine, and the perennial debate about legalizing fireworks was renewed.

Despite the argument that firecrackers and bottle rockets are fairly innocuous, especially if they are being used under the supervision of a responsible adult, the potential for injury is too great.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2008 in the U.S., seven people died and an estimated 7,000 were treated in emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries. More than four of every 10 injured were children under the age of 15, the CDC reports, and 58 percent of all fireworks injuries were suffered by those under the age of 20. In the one-month period around the Fourth of July in 2008, there were “900 injuries associated with firecrackers, 800 associated with sparklers and 300 associated with rockets. Of the injuries associated with firecrackers, 500 involved small firecrackers,” according to the CDC.

In addition to injury, fireworks cause fires.

Currently, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York ban the sale of all consumer fireworks. Maine, along with 22 other states, allows residents to buy and use nonaerial and nonexplosive fireworks. Twenty-one states allow residents to purchase and use all kinds of consumer fireworks — including those that explode. What Maine stands to gain by joining these states is unclear.

The current law should stand.

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