Minnesota is heading for its lowest-ever number of fire deaths in a calendar year – and the drop in cigarette smokers could be playing a big part.
According to the Minnesota State Fire Marshal, there have been 24 fire deaths in Minnesota so far this year.
This represents a 51 percent drop compared to the 49 people who had died by this same time in 2015. By the end of that year, the number had risen to 57 after a bad winter in which there were a spate of deadly space heater fires.
But 2016 is likely to have fewer deaths than 2014, and even come in under the 44 recorded in 2013 and 2014.
Fire Marshal Bruce West told MPR that the ongoing reduction in the number of smokers and the rise of electronic "vape" cigarettes could be behind this year's decline.
In fact, of the 57 people who died in fires last year, nine were attributed to careless smoking – making it the leading known cause, the Department of Public Safety said.
"So people either quitting smoking or moving to vaping, that could be one of the underlying reductions in [this year's numbers]," West told MPR "That's something that we will definitely take a look at."
Department of Public Safety figures show that the lowest year for fire deaths was 2009, when just 35 people were killed.
Smoking has been declining
The Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey found in 2014 that the state's smoking rate had declined to a record low of 14.4 percent, which translated to 580,000 Minnesotans who still lit up.
At the same time, the number of adults using e-cigarettes rose to 5.9 percent, compared to just 0.7 percent in the previous survey, taken in 2010.
Even those who do smoke have been taking steps to minimize the dangers in the home. By the end of 2014, 89.3 percent of homes were considered "smoke-free," meaning people don't smoke inside the house. That was up from 83.2 percent in 2007. Almost two-thirds of smokers live in a smoke-free home, the survey said.