It sounds like a punch line or, at best, a cynical PR maneuver, but the nation's biggest cigarette producers are aiming to put a "safer" smoke on the market by the end of the month. Wire reports today indicate that Altria Group's (NYSE:MO) Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds (NYSE:RJR), and Lorillard Tobacco, a.k.a. Loews Corp.'s (NYSE:LTR) Carolina Group (NYSE:CG) have all committed to meeting a June deadline to create a cigarette that meets a New York consumer-protection statute. The goal? A cigarette that's less likely to start a fire if dropped.

The technology has been around for nearly three decades. Basically, by incorporating a dense ring at intervals in the cigarette, the smoldering tip can be starved of oxygen and snuffed out, unless it's being actively puffed. That means lots of relighting for smokers, and it also means cigarettes won't burn through as quickly on their own. That translates into reduced cigarette consumption, which explains why big tobacco hasn't incorporated the solution until now.

I'm a pretty big anti-tobacco type, but even so, I find myself wondering whether our nation's legislators couldn't be doing something just a wee bit more productive with their time, like appropriating taxpayer dollars for taxidermy. Just how dangerous is the threat from fires touched off by cigarettes?

Killing an estimated 800 people per year, it ranks far below other unlikely risks, such as drowning or falling down a flight of stairs. You are 50 times more likely to be killed behind the wheel of your car. You are four times more likely to be flattened by an SUV while walking across the street for your morning Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX). You have about the same chance of freezing to death or becoming the victim of a thrown or falling object.

But here's the kicker: You are 500 times more likely to die of health problems caused by inhaling the cigarette smoke. In this light, New York's law makes as much sense as requiring the folks on the bomb squad to wear oven mitts, lest they singe their fingers.

Predictably, this do-little law has already spawned a national copycat that is winding its way through the House under the tutelage of Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Peter T. King (R-N.Y.). Even without this bill's passage, cigarette makers may have to make the switch for the other 49 states, as the trial lawyers are sure to smell money and culpability in the mere existence of the firms' special New York cigs.

If you'd kick the habit altogether, consider joining the Fool's Quitting Smoking discussion group.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson owns no company mentioned. View his Fool profile here.