Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Asbestos Cancer and Lung Cancer Connected for Former Kent Smokers

December 4, 2013

Greensboro, NC Columnist Joe Nocera writing in the New York Times December 3 came down hard on lung cancer lawsuits that claim exposure to asbestos, spinning lung cancer into asbestos cancer. His position is that with the dangers of smoking well-known, successfully litigating lung cancer cases is a tough go, so lawyers have attempted to find a connection between lung cancer and asbestos claims.

Nocera’s case in point is nine-term congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who has taken a leave of absence from Congress while she fights lung cancer. Her asbestos claims include having a father and brother who worked as boiler makers. That industry was - and continues to be in some sectors - a haven for asbestos. McCarthy also claims to have visited her father and sibling at various work sites, where she claims to have become exposed to asbestos fibers.

This kind of exposure, and its dire consequences, has actually been proven in previous court cases involving Mesothelioma and other asbestos cancer cases. Asbestos workers of yesteryear, uninformed about the hazards of asbestos, would unwittingly imbed fibers into car upholstery from their work clothes driving home from the shop, exposing other family members to the deadly substance after the fact.

One asbestos worker lost his wife to asbestos mesothelioma due to her regular chore of laundering her husband’s work clothes. Her exposure to asbestos was not in the plant, but in the laundry room of her own home. She never visited the job site. But her husband either wore or carried his work clothes home to be washed. That was her death sentence.

And any claim that lung cancer and asbestos compensation do not correlate, have never heard about Kent brand cigarettes. While columnist Nocera quite rightly takes issue with any blanket claim that cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure act synergistically to cause lung cancer, there remains nonetheless a direct connection between asbestos exposure and lung cancer for any smoker who may have favored Kent cigarettes in the early- to mid-1950s.

According to the News & Record (11/1/13), the Lorillard Tobacco Company came out with its patented “Micronite” filter in an attempt to make cigarette smoking healthier. However, the filters contained a deadly form of asbestos, a fact that the company readily admits. In a statement to the News & Record, Ronald Milstein, executive vice president and general counsel to Lorillard, said that “original Kent cigarettes included asbestos as an element of the filter material.” Milstein went on to say that the product was used for only four years, until the design was changed and the filter manufactured without asbestos.

“At that time, asbestos was used in a wide range of consumer products, and it was not until years after Lorillard stopped using asbestos in the Kent filter that asbestos-containing products were linked with disease,” Milstein said.

According to the News & Record, the design change happened in May 1956. But 13 billion Kents were consumed using the asbestos-containing Micronite filter in the four years beginning March 1952. Any smoker or former smoker, with or without lung cancer, can lay claim to asbestos compensation if they smoked Kents within that four-year period.

It is also telling when you look at what happened to the workers who toiled for the company making those asbestos filters. Hollingsworth & Vose was the manufacturer of record for the filters - a blend of cotton, acetate, crepe paper and crocidolite asbestos. The filters were made at Hollingsworth & Vose plants in West Groton and Rochdale, Massachusetts. Dr. James A. Talcott is an oncologist who co-authored a study on the health effects of Hollingsworth & Vose workers toiling at the West Groton facility, which Talcott likened to a “dust-creating monster.” Of 33 former employees at the plant tracked for the study, 28 had died by the time the study was published in 1989. Of the five workers still alive that year, four were battling asbestos cancer.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lorillard is still operating and is the third-largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the country, with net sales of $6.6. billion in 2012, according to the News & Record. The company revealed in filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that roughly 90 asbestos lawsuits have been settled in the last two years, with 60 more cases pending.