WASHINGTON – While members of Congress fretted Wednesday about how to allocate federal aid to best counter the risk of a terrorist attack, one lawmaker chose to focus on cigarette lighters.
They are made in the home district of Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., who says the ban on lighters by the Transportation Security Administration is hurting his constituents to the tune of $5 million a year.
"In my view," he said at a hearing of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, banning lighters from flights "is not a risk, it's just a bad decision."
In December 2004 Congress added lighters to the list of items banned from flights. Since June 2005, passengers have been allowed to carry up to two fueled Zippo lighters in their checked bags.
Witnesses at Wednesday's hearing were questioned about how the government assesses the risk of attack by enemies or of a natural calamity. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the panel's top Republican, noted that they were dealing with a "somber subject."
Yet in comments showing how there can be a hometown angle to virtually any issue Congress considers, Peterson spoke out against a security measure that he says is hurting his district.
Zippo is a strong U.S. company, he said. But the company's sales are down, and it's costing jobs.
Peterson added that Zippos are treasured throughout the world. "They're given as gifts, they're coveted" in other countries.
Zippo Manufacturing Co. has its headquarters in the northwest Pennsylvania city of Bradford.
"When they mandated that lighters could no longer be carried, that did in fact hurt our business," Greg Booth, president and chief executive officer of Zippo Manufacturing Company, said in an interview.
Booth estimated that the ban has hurt sales to tourists — in stores both inside and outside airports — in the range of $5 million a year. He noted that sales in Hawaii, Guam and New York have particularly suffered.