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Travelers leave their lighters behind

TSA: Nearly 143,000 handed over -- and counting

From Mike M. Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau

Richard C. Reid
Transportation Security Administration
Cigarette lighters

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Need a light? Don't bother asking anyone coming off an airplane.

In the first five days of a cigarette lighter ban on airplanes, travelers have surrendered 142,709 to airport screeners, a Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said Thursday.

Most of the lighters -- 135,000 -- were surrendered or discovered at screener checkpoints. The remainder of them were found at secondary screening checkpoints or airline gates, the spokeswoman said.

The lighters were surrendered at 429 reporting airports April 14-19.

The TSA calls the ban successful, but notes that it has resulted in thousands of complaints from passengers.

Congress mandated the lighter ban, which took effect April 14. It prohibits lighters in airplane cabins and secure areas of airports.

Some members of Congress, citing the case of shoe-bomber Richard Reid, feared terrorists could use lighters to ignite bombs.

Reid tried unsuccessfully to use a match to ignite his bomb during a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001.

The TSA still allows passengers to have a few matchbooks, a decision based partly on the inability of current technology to detect matches.

Passengers have few options if they arrive at airport checkpoints and suddenly remember they have lighters. They can return them to their car or surrender them to screeners.

The TSA disposes of the lighters, contracting with a firm that must treat them as hazardous waste.

How the new rule is affecting lighter sales is not clear.

Zippo, a Pennsylvania-based cigarette lighter manufacturer, said it could lose 20 percent to 30 percent of sales because of the ban.

Zippo President Greg Booth said he agreed that lighters could pose a security risk in an aircraft passenger cabin.

But, he said, "we strongly oppose" a ban on lighters in checked luggage imposed years ago by the Department of Transportation for safety reasons.

"We have not uncovered one instance in which lighters in checked luggage exploded, caught fire or otherwise posed a danger to the aircraft," he said.

If the DOT continues to ban lighters from checked luggage, "it will significantly impact Zippo's business in numerous areas," he said.

Travelers often buy Zippo lighters as souvenirs, and Zippo collectors often travel around the country to attend swap meets, he said.

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