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Ban on lighters sparks debate


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Lighters are banned on U.S. flights, but you can still take matches into the cabin.
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(CNN) -- The recent U.S. ban on cigarette lighters aboard passenger planes has caught scores of smokers by surprise at North American airports, but the ban is also making waves globally.

In response to the ban, international airlines have mounted a campaign to educate travelers about carrying lighters on flights to the U.S. -- a ban that does not extend to matches.

While some may agree with this new ban, others believe U.S. authorities have gone too far.

"It is going to do absolutely nothing. It is part of the public relations exercise that has gone on since September 11, 2001," Chris Yates of Jane's Transport publications told CNN.

"It is to convince the traveling public that something is being done about security. They have banned a lot of inoffensive items from airplanes and the list is ludicrous."

The latest U.S. security measure may have been prompted by Richard Reid, who tried unsuccessfully to ignite an explosive hidden in his shoe on a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001 -- though he used matches.

Yet in Britain, authorities are relaxing security measures. From April 25 passengers can carry knitting needles and nail scissors of a certain size, as well as metal cutlery on flights.

"The ability for someone to do damage, either with a sharpened playing card or splinters of plastic from the present cutlery that is on board is just as damaging," says Richard Garner, a civil aviation security consultant.

UK authorities believe reinforced cockpit doors and the deployment of armed sky marshals means most sharp objects in the cabin are useless in the hands of a would-be hijacker.

European ministers agree -- many regional airlines have already relaxed their bans on metal cutlery.

In response to the U.S. ban, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council of the European Union has protested to the U.S. State Department.

It is concerned about the ban's impact on airports and passengers, saying that current technology does not allow lighters to be effectively detected and enforcing the new regulation will involve manual searches, which will take time and resources.

But there is a lack of international standardization when it comes to airline security.

"Each government has different ideas of what (the standards) should be," says Frances Tuke of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

"They obviously listen to each country's airlines, it is unlikely to be workable or enforceable to have a body that oversees every single country's airline."

Other countries, including New Zealand, are also considering relaxing rules on some sharp objects.

Since April 14, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has banned passengers from carrying butane, Zippo-type, electric or battery-powered and novelty lighters in the airline cabin.

Also, lighters can no longer sit in carry-on luggage in areas of airports beyond security checkpoints or in the cabin. Passengers are also prohibited from having lighters or matches in luggage that is checked in.

CNN's Paula Hancocks contributed to this report


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