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Written by Kim Milan

Cigarette smoking (or any form of smoking) is now known to be extremely hazardous to health with cancer being the most dangerous hazard associated with smoking.

Smoking is now considered to be so hazardous to your health that all tobacco packets must contain health warnings upon them.

Worryingly, there was once a brand of cigarette that actually carried a double risk of cancer, the “Kent Micronite” cigarette.

The Kent Micronite had an asbestos based filter inside it.  The filter had a blend of cotton, acetate, crepe paper, and crocidolite asbestos within it.  Crocidolite asbestos, often referred to as “blue asbestos” is extremely hazardous to health.

Lorillard, the producer of the Kent Micronite however were so sure of the filter that they made bold claims within their advertisements stating that the filter was:

“a pure dust free, completely harmless material that is so safe, it actually is used to help filter the air in operating rooms.”

The Kent Micronite gave “greater protection than any other cigarette”, according to Lorillard.

Many smokers relied upon these bold claims and purposely smoked Kent Micronite’s to try and protect themselves from the harmful tar in cigarettes.

Rather scarily Lorillard even produced adverts endorsing the safety of their product to medical professionals such as can be seen in the advertisement pictured below.

Sadly Lorillard were wrong in their claims.  Smokers of the Kent Micronite were exposed to asbestos carcinogens whenever they smoked a Kent Micronite as well as the carcinogens from the tar in the tobacco.  This meant all Kent Micronite smokers faced a double cancer risk.

Over 13 billion Kent Micronites were smoked between March 1952 and May 1956, when Lorillard changed the filter design.

Also exposed to the deadly asbestos filters were the employees of Lorillard who worked in the factory producing the filters and placing them in the cigarettes.  In a survey conducted against 33 former Lorillard workers producing the Kent Micronite, 18 had passed away (more than 50%) from asbestos related diseases which shows the hazards faced by these employees.

But why did Lorillard use asbestos within its filters?

Lorillard was aware that crocidolite was being used in gas masks made for the Army Chemical Corps.  Because of this Lorillard were of the opinion that the filtering properties of crocidolite were so great that they should be used in its Kent Micronite cigarettes and launched the Kent Micronites at a press conference at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, touting the Micronite filter as “the greatest health protection in cigarette history.”

The Kent Micronite legacy

Sadly thousands of former Kent Micronite smokers and former Lorillard employees have gone on to suffer from asbestos related diseases to include mesothelioma, a fatal form of asbestos induced cancer.

Lorillard, the third biggest tobacconist in the United States has been faced with an extremely high number of claims, many of which it has settled, though usually after a fierce legal battle where it has denied liability.  Lorillard’s defence strategies have even gone as far as tracing ex-colleagues and friends of mesothelioma victims from the 1950’s and cross examining them at trial as to whether they can be absolutely certain the mesothelioma sufferer definitely smoked Kent Micronite’s and not another brand of cigarette.

In one case a mesothelioma victim was unable to attend a Court hearing as he felt too ill to travel and then attend the Court hearing.  Lorillard paid private investigators to follow the victim and footage was shown to the Court of him travelling by car with his wife to the shops.  Lorillard attempted to argue with the footage that the mesothelioma victim was exaggerating his claim in an attempt to obtain increased compensation.  Mesothelioma is an extremely debilitating disease and the victim would not have been exaggerating his symptoms.