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Oh Say Can You Hear? Fireworks Use is Booming!

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: June 18, 2003

Never has the rockets' red glare been brighter in America.

Use of fireworks as backyard entertainment during the Fourth of July has exploded in recent years, according to a national survey of 1,010 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University. Young adults are twice as likely as elderly Americans to have used firecrackers and other pyrotechnics as a means of celebration.

Sales of fireworks in the United States have grown dramatically since the mid-1970s when federal regulations restricted the size and design of personal pyrotechnics. After fireworks-related injuries declined, several states quietly repealed long-standing bans on so-called "consumer fireworks."

"Business is booming," said Baltimore physician John Steinberg, a fireworks enthusiast and president of the Pyrotechnics Guild International. "I've always found fireworks to be entertaining, whether I'm watching a display or performing one. But, honestly, I don't understand the tremendous increase in use we've seen recently."

The U.S. International Trade Commission reports that importation of consumer fireworks - firecrackers, sparklers, small rockets and ground-based sparkling displays - nearly tripled from slightly less than 68 million pounds in 1990 to more than 190 million pounds last year. Almost all fireworks used in backyard displays are manufactured abroad, with most coming from China.

Nearly three-quarters of poll respondents said they "plan to celebrate the Fourth of July this year by going to see a fireworks display or doing some other special activity." Sixty percent of young adults said they, personally, have "used firecrackers or cherry bombs during the Fourth of July" compared to only 31 percent of people 65 or older.

"I think this all resulted from a general increase in patriotism," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, which represents 260 fireworks-associated companies. "We saw an incredible surge in use of consumer fireworks last year, increasing by about 30 million pounds. That was the first Fourth of July since the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks."

The poll found that the desire for pyrotechnics transcends local bans on use. Forty percent of people living in states that prohibit fireworks said they, personally, have exploded firecrackers at least once in their neighborhoods.

"Anti-fireworks legislation are probably the most violated of America's laws," Heckman said. "People will cross state borders to bring back firecrackers. When it comes to Independence Day, people want to celebrate their freedoms and they want to do it with sparklers and firecrackers."

She said fireworks-related injuries have declined from about 12,000 in 1990 to about 8,800 last year. West Virginia eased fireworks restrictions in 1995, followed by Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota and Vermont.

"The state lawmakers are recognizing that people are going to celebrate with firecrackers, if they are legal or not," Heckman said.

Fireworks experts agree the growth in sales has been driven by equally dramatic improvements in inexpensive yet sophisticated products.

"We're seeing very innovative designs these days with fancier rockets and things I call 'multi-shot cakes,' which are a series of fireworks tubes you put on the ground and light to get a very professional looking display," said John Eric Drewes, assistant editor of the American Fireworks News newsletter.

The survey found that backyard fireworks are most popular in the South and least popular in Northeastern states, many of which have total bans on the sale or possession of any type of pyrotechnics.

Men are much more likely to have exploded firecrackers at least once in their lives than are women.

The poll also found that fireworks, with their clear association to the Fourth of July, have a popularity that transcends politics. About half of the Democrats, Republicans and political independents in the poll said they, personally, have used fireworks.

The survey was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone May 4-18 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Foundation.

The poll has an overall 4 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within the survey.