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Asbestos in Cigarette Filters

Perhaps one of the most disturbing commercial uses of asbestos was in cigarette filters. These cigarettes contained crocidolite fibers—the type of asbestos likely responsible for the most amount of asbestos-related deaths to date.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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Asbestos in Cigarette Filters Explained

Asbestos was widely used throughout the 20th century across many industries and occupations. Companies added asbestos to many products, threatening the health of unsuspecting consumers and workers.

One of the ways that the heat-resistant and insulation properties of asbestos were applied in consumer products was in certain brands of cigarettes.

Kent, an American brand of cigarettes, was introduced to the market by Lorillard Tobacco Company in 1952. They were hailed as the first filtered cigarette. Consumers bought them in droves thanks to the positive health connotations associated with the micronite filter.

In the first four years of manufacturing, Kent sold 13 billion cigarettes thanks to their promise of ‘the greatest health protection ever’ in a cigarette. It was later discovered that the cigarettes used carcinogenic crocidolite (blue) asbestos, which was being directly inhaled by smokers.

Lorillard changed the material to acetate in 1956 after complaints. But even in the 1990s, people were diagnosed with mesothelioma linked to smoking Kent cigarettes in the 1950s.

Lawsuits are still being filed today, with a Florida judge recently awarding over $3.5 million in damages to a former Kent smoker.

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Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in Cigarette Filters?

Asbestos in cigarette filters exposed countless people to the toxic substance, placing many of them at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. From cigarette factory workers to consumers, innocent groups of people have since suffered the health consequences due to the negligence of these cigarette brands.

Kent Cigarette Factory Workers

Manufacturers used asbestos in cigarette filters because of its filter-like material, which was dense enough to stop particles and gases from seeping through.  People working in environments containing asbestos were bound to inhale the very thin crocidolite fibers.

Lorillard workers were often expected to cut open bags of raw crocidolite asbestos to produce the cigarettes, which put them at significant risk of inhaling such fibers. Kent cigarette filters were made in Massachusetts and shipped to Lorillard’s bases in Kentucky and New Jersey.

Friends and Family of Kent Cigarette Factory Workers

Lorillard factory workers weren’t the only ones exposed to the dangers of asbestos. Since they would often come home wearing the same clothes they worked in, these toxic particles were likely spread through their houses. Unfortunately, family, friends, and neighbors of these workers were put at risk of developing the disease too.

Kent Cigarette Smokers

The millions of people who smoked Kent cigarettes between 1952 and 1956 were also exposed to the asbestos used in their cigarette filters. Many of these have gone on to be diagnosed with mesothelioma and file personal injury mesothelioma lawsuits against the manufacturer.

Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Not only were smokers inhaling asbestos, but those around them were also exposed secondarily to the fibers from the cigarettes’ clouds of smoke.

Lorillard continues to insist that little to no asbestos was leaked from Kent filters, yet numerous tests have shown that the smoke produced by Kent cigarettes contained a sizable amount of asbestos.

In the days before the smoking ban, smokers would light up inside restaurants, at parks, in bars, at work, in the car, etc. This makes for countless places non-smokers could have been subjected to asbestos exposure, through second-hand smoke from Ken cigarettes, in the early 1950s.

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Health Risks of Asbestos in Cigarette Filters

Asbestos is carcinogenic, meaning when Kent Micronite smokers in the early 1950s inhaled what they thought was just a mix of tobacco, they were also inhaling a substance with the ability to cause cancer. Inhaling asbestos can cause tiny carcinogenic fibers to attach to tissue linings, triggering mesothelioma cells.

A Cancer Research study looked at the effects of crocidolite asbestos on smokers and found that smoking a pack a day of cigarettes with asbestos filters exposes a smoker to 131 million carcinogenic fibers.

Mesothelioma affects the lungs, heart, and abdominal lining, and while it can take years for tumors to grow, it’s exclusively associated with asbestos exposure.

Seeking Justice for Mesothelioma Victims

Many people developed mesothelioma as a result of working with asbestos cigarette filters, including those who worked at Kent’s factory and distribution hubs. Smokers themselves were perhaps the most significant group of victims, and many claims have been put forward to Lorillard for damages, injury, and loss of life.

If you believe that you have contracted mesothelioma because of your exposure to asbestos while working for Kent or from inhaling asbestos through their cigarettes, please contact our Justice Support Team today.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. New York Times, “Ex-Kent Smoker Blames Filter of Past for Illness”. Retrieved from: Accessed May 28, 2018.

  2. Fair Warning, “Legal Battles Smolder Six Decades After ‘the Greatest Health Protection in Cigarette History”. Retrieved from: Accessed May 28, 2018.

  3. Mother Jones, “Remember When Big Tobacco Sold Asbestos as the “Greatest Health Protection”?”. Retrieved from: Accessed May 28, 2018.

  4. Cancer Research, “Crocidolite asbestos fibers in smoke from original Kent cigarettes”. Retrieved from: Accessed May 28, 2018.

  5. Merryhill, “Types of Asbestos”. Retrieved from: Accessed May 28, 2018.

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