Lighters aren't just for smokers. They have a number of uses around the house, including lighting stoves, pilot lights and candles as well as other utility uses. A lighter may seem innocuous, but it can be dangerous. It contains a pressurized flammable gas that can potentially explode, and it can cause a fire in the hands of a young child who mistakes it for a toy.
Snope.com debunked a famous story of two men who were killed with a lighter that was said to have exploded with the force of three sticks of dynamite. Lighters are far too small to produce that much force, but they nevertheless can explode if placed near an open flame or subjected to another source of heat. The explosion can send shards of plastic flying and potentially start a fire as the pressurized butane ignites. Inadvertently leaving a lighter too close to a stove or fireplace can seriously injure someone who doesn't know it is there.
Gas generally doesn't leak from a lighter under normal use, even an inexpensive one. If the lighter is refillable, however, the valve may stick open after removal of the refilling cartridge. If anyone in the vicinity happens to be smoking, the leaking gas can potentially ignite and burn whoever is holding the lighter. The chances of this happening are small, but a related type of accident is more common. The outlet aperture may mot be fully closed when smoker uses the lighter to light a cigarette. The result is an extra-large flame that can singe hair or even burn skin.
According the the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, children under 5 cause more than 5,000 residential fires a year playing with lighters. The most accessible lighters are those that have just been used to light a stove or candle and left carelessly on the table or floor. Children often mistake lighters for toys, especially if they have been encouraged to do so by adults who light them for their amusement. Many lighters are child-proof, and while they are more troublesome to light, they are the best ones to keep around houses with small children.
Novelty lighters present a particular danger for children because they look even more like toys than regular lighters, and they often lack child-proof safeguards. Lexington, Kentucky, Fire Chief Robert Hendricks warns against the pervasiveness of novelty lighters and advises against using them if you have small children. They can resemble cell phones, toy animals and other colorful objects to which children are particularly attracted. The state of Maine has banned the sale of novelty lighters, and many other states and municipalities have followed suit. The U.S. Senate began considering a federal ban in 2008.