The irony of the whole thing is that the flame retardants don't even make furniture any less flammable:
"The problem, [the fire expert] argues, is that the standard is based on applying a small flame to a bare piece of foam - a situation unlikely to happen in real life. ... In real life, before the flame gets to the foam, it has to ignite the fabric. Once the fabric catches fire, it becomes a sheet of flame that can easily overwhelm the fire-suppression properties of treated foam. In tests, TB 117 compliant chairs catch fire just as easily as ones that aren't compliant - and they burn just as hot."
So the entire country is now exposed to the dangers of these chemicals because in 1975 some bureaucrats at an obscure government agency in California came up with an arbitrary standard that was not based in reality.
So a certain portion of the decline is due to the reduction in cigarette use.
Also, 43 out of 50 states now mandate "fire safe" cigarettes which contain substances such as ethylene vinyl acetate which increase the chance an unsmoked but lit cigarette will stop burning. The presence of these cigarettes has also certainly led to fewer couch fires.
At some point they figured out that smoking is somewhat less bad for you if you smoke outside
Smoking is in no way less bad for you if done out of doors. It's because no one, not even a smoker, wants their domicile to smell like an ash tray...and when selling a house, you don't want to cut out that large swath of the population that doesn't smoke from your buyer pool.
"Smoking is in no way less bad for you if done out of doors."
That's not true. If you live in the house of someone who was formerly a heavy smoker then you have a higher cancer risk yourself, because the radiation from the cigarrettes gets into the walls and carpet. Which means that smokers themselves also have a lower cancer risk if they smoke outside for the same reason. I'd imagine it also somewhat reduces their risk for heart attack, since second hand smoke increases your risk of heart attack, although I haven't seen any stats on that.
Everyone commenting on this thread seems to make the assumption that all smokers in fact smoke cigarettes inside their residence. As a 26 year-old semi-heavy smoker, I've never once even considered smoking inside my apartment, nor do I know any smokers who do so. This may be dismissed as anecdotal by the type of vehement anti-smoking zealot you seem to be,But I believe it's an accurate depiction of smokers at large.
Very good point. Given that the person who authored the most frequently cited study advocating retardants has gone on record saying his study has been mis-cited and they actually provide absolutely no benefit at all, it seems fairly likely that the entire 57% decrease is due to these other factors and not related at all to treating the foam with carcinogens.
This reminds me of the ban on regular light bulbs in the EU. People are basically forced now to install so called energy saving lamps, which contain and emit highly toxic mercury and phenol. Most people even don't know about the risks and would let their children sleep in a room with a broken lamp.
They certainly emit mercury when they're broken, and the instructions for cleaning up broken CFLs call for several hours of ventilation, which implies that the mercury vapor escapes into the atmosphere. (See, for example, the cleanup instructions at the bottom of this page: http://www.epa.state.il.us/mercury/compact-fluorescent.html)
I'd guess that a large percentage of people who buy CFLs are totally unaware of how to deal with these hazards (or are even unaware that the bulbs contain poisonous material).
Also, the rise in the use of CFLs means that more people will be exposed to mercury while mining it and while assembling the lamps (probably in places like China, where occupational health laws are fairly lax).
On the other hand though, CFLs, with a current energy production mix of sources, cause, even if broken, less mercury to be emitted into the atmosphere than the extra power required to light an equivalent incandescent would cause to be emitted during generation (coal is mostly to blame for this). They also cause far fewer greenhouse gasses to be emitted.
Also consider that in today's litigious world, no one wants to say "don't worry if you break a bulb, there's not really enough mercury to be dangerous in one" lest someone starts breaking bulbs with wild abandon and then suing the authority that told them they 'weren't dangerous'.