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Asbestos cigarette filters?

Some old advertising makes one cringe today. Some of the most egregious examples of this are the old cigarette advertisements, with doctors standing in exam rooms, smoking cigarettes. A story today from the Sacrament Bee takes that one step further, with a story about cigarettes from the 1950s, where not only were smokers at risk for lung cancer from the usual suspects in cigarette smoke, but also mesothelioma.

You may wonder how you would contract mesothelioma from smoking cigarettes, since you typically have to be exposed to some type of asbestos fibers. This often occurred in the workplace, as in California shipyards, mining of asbestos or any of the hundreds of other industrial applications where asbestos-containing materials were used.

Well, in addition to all of those other uses, one cigarette company thought it would be a grand idea to use asbestos fibers as part of a filter for their cigarettes. And during the mid-fifties, they sold about 13 billion cigarettes equipped with these innovative filters.

With the long gestation period, some people who smoked those cigarettes may still be developing mesothelioma. In spite of the aggressive defense tactics the tobacco company uses to protect its profits from any lawsuits alleging that their cigarettes caused mesothelioma, sometimes they lose, as they did recently in Florida, where a jury awarded $3.5 million damages.

They launched the asbestos filtered cigarettes with great fanfare at the Waldorf-Astoria, and attempted to make it sound as if the filters were developed as part of the atomic energy industry. What was worse was that they touted the filters as providing "the greatest heath protection." 

Perhaps that last part may have overstated things just a little bit. 

Source: Sacramento Bee, "Viewpoints: Tobacco company plays hardball in new suits in mesothelioma cases pointing toward cigarette filters," Myron Levin, October 22, 2013

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