Tobacco smoking can cause lung cancer and asbestos is directly linked to mesothelioma. Combine the two and the risk of developing either of the two diseases dramatically increases. The risk of a smoker who has been exposed to asbestos developing asbestosis is comparatively higher than the risk for a non-smoker. Yet, for a period of time in the 1950s, at least one cigarette company used asbestos in its cigarette filters, exposing millions to a significantly increased risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelioma.
From 1952 to at least 1957, the Kent cigarette brand was manufactured with 10mgs of crocidolite – or blue asbestos – in each filter. Little or no asbestos awareness meant that over 13 billion asbestos laced cigarettes were sold during those five years, increasing the risk for millions of people who believed the cigarette ads that they were smoking the safest, healthiest cigarette ever made.
According to one study, an average of 131 million crocidolite asbestos fibre may have be inhaled each year by those who smoked those “healthy” cigarettes! The crocidolite form is considered the most dangerous asbestos type when inhaled.
It was only in 1954, when the manufacturer’s own electron microscope tests to determine whether smokers were inhaling asbestos fibres from their patented Micronite filters, showed Kent smokers were being exposed to asbestos. Despite the confirmation and the knowledge that asbestos caused serious lung diseases, Kent cigarettes continued to be on sale for a further 18 months and another 4 billion asbestos-filtered cigarettes sold before the asbestos was finally removed from the filters in early 1957. Full page ads in Medicine Journals at the time proclaimed that Kent “offers the greatest health protection in the history of cigarettes.”
In a Journal of Medicine study published in 1989, researchers reported that one group of 33 cigarette factory workers, who had manufactured the filters with crocidolite asbestos, showed statistically significant higher rates of death from lung cancer and mesothelioma, whilst a second group of twenty-eight men, who had worked in the filter making factory, had died, mostly of lung-related illnesses.
Asbestos has also been used in other tobacco products, most often in cigarette papers and mixed with pipe tobaccos. For all those who smoked Kent cigarettes during the 1950s and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer or another asbestos-related disease, there maybe an entitlement to claiming asbestos compensation.