Zippo fires up effort to ease TSA restrictions on lighters

By Mark Wegner

June 6, 2005

Zippo Manufacturing, with lobbying help from the firm Williams and Jensen, a Washington lobbying firm, scored a partial victory last month by persuading the Transportation Security Administration to ease rules that prohibited airline passengers from traveling with unfilled lighters in their checked luggage.

Now, Zippo is urging the TSA to allow passengers to travel with filled lighters in checked bags.

Zippo retained Williams and Jensen to represent them shortly after the TSA announced in late February its ban on all lighters. The goal now is to get an exemption that would allow air travelers to transport two filled lighters in checked luggage as long as they are in a special air-tight container.

Williams and Jensen partner Tracy Taylor said Zippo lobbying has focused mostly on the executive branch, even though the issue came up as a result of a provision in the intelligence overhaul bill passed last December.

"We were working with them to help clarify that the unfilled lighters were never really hazardous materials," Taylor said.

Federal rules previously prohibited air travelers from carrying lighters in checked bags. The 2004 intelligence bill expanded the ban to butane lighters carried in the passenger cabin, which the TSA had interpreted to prohibit all lighters.

Taylor said the lighter ban would seriously affect Zippo sales, even among non-smokers.

"They are a collector's item. They're kind of the Harley-Davidson of lighters," Taylor said. "What this did is really cut into the commemorative lighter [product], which is a large part of their business."

The TSA ban quickly caught the attention of GOP Rep. John Peterson, who represents the small town of Bradford, Pa., where Zippo is based, and of Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, both R-Pa.

A spokesman said Peterson helped set up meetings between Zippo and transportation officials. The spokesman said it is "common sense" to allow passengers to travel with unfilled lighters and added Peterson strongly supports allowing passengers to pack up to two filled lighters in checked luggage.

Zippo has launched a petition effort that allows Internet users to send a fax to Transportation Department officials.

The message notes that Zippo has filed an emergency exemption from hazardous materials regulations and asks the department to approve a special container to transport filled lighters.

"By granting this exemption, you would enable me to continue to enjoy my Zippo lighters even when traveling by air," the online petition states.

By Mark Wegner

June 6, 2005