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Cigarette Filters

Asbestos in Cigarette Filters and Other Building Materials

While exposure to asbestos, particularly amphibole asbestos such as crocidolite, can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a smoker who is exposed to this substance runs much greater risk of developing the disease – by some estimates of as much as 900%. The health dangers of smoking were known by the late 1930s, and the health hazards of asbestos exposure had been well-established at approximately the same time, although as with cigarette smoking it was many decades before the exact severity of the danger became general public knowledge. In order to reduce the danger from cigarette smoking, many tobacco companies put filters on their cigarettes, and some of those filters used asbestos because of the fireproof qualities it possessed.

The most well-known developer of asbestos-based cigarette filters was Kent, which manufactured Kent brand cigarettes in the 1950s and used crocidolite asbestos in its patented Micronite filter. Crocidolite is one of the most deadly forms of asbestos. Known as "blue" asbestos because of its color, this variety of the substance is made up of fibers that when inhaled act as microscopic needles. They bore into lung tissue, causing chronic inflammation that oncology researchers now believe result in cellular mutations that lead to cancer and mesothelioma. Kent brand cigarettes with the Micronite filter were manufactured from 1952 through 1956.

Hazards Associated with Cigarette Filter Products

Workers in the Kent factory and in other cigarette factories where asbestos filters were manufactured or used undoubtedly had some exposure to asbestos, but by far the most significant group of asbestos victims from asbestos cigarette filters were smokers themselves. Tens of millions of Kent cigarettes were sold in the 1950s and 1960s, and the people smoking those cigarettes were literally inhaling asbestos fibers with every puff. Asbestos which is heated or damaged can become friable, meaning that the individual fibers are easily torn loose from the surrounding material, and researchers in the mid-1990s who analyzed these cigarettes from old unopened packages determined that the average smoker would have inhaled more than 130 million crocidolite fibers per year.

Sources

Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
Longo, William E. et. al. "Crocidolite Asbestos Fibers in Smoke from Original Kent Cigarettes." Cancer Research, 1 June 1995

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