Unlike the case of many other types of cancers, mesothelioma is not directly caused by smoking. Only asbestos and certain minerals with asbestos-like qualities are known for sure to cause mesothelioma. However, smoking is considered to be one of the factors that can increase a person’s risk of getting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. It is most likely a co-factor in that your risk of developing mesothelioma is increased due to smoking and one or more other factors like asbestos exposure or exposure to zeolites. In fact, smoking and asbestos is a deadly combination that can cut your life short.
Cigarettes contain about 7,000 different chemicals which enter the lungs when inhaled as smoke or secondhand smoke. Of these, about 70 are known to cause cancers in the lungs, bladder, esophagus, reproductive system, mouth, gastro-intestinal system, as well as other organs. When a person inhales these harmful chemicals, the body is filled with toxins which force the immune system to work harder and longer.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. The carcinogens are capable of binding to DNA and producing mutations.1 The mutated cells then divide and replicate the mutations leading to cancerous tumors. The chemical cocktail in cigarettes promotes cancer in other words, so when it becomes a co-factor with asbestos exposure you are greatly increasing the odds you will develop malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Not only can smoking damage and weaken the immune system, it can cause serious damage to the respiratory system. The respiratory damage from smoking will not cause mesothelia; however, when the immune system and respiratory system are damaged, a person is less able to resist the damage asbestos fibers can cause. Smoking also causes irritation to the lungs which results in increased mucus, thus blocking airways and making it more difficult to filter environmental hazards and toxins. If asbestos fibers are inhaled, the body will then be less able to expel the fibers. The majority of experts concur that smokers who are exposed to asbestos are twice as likely to get mesothelioma as non smokers.
Smokers diagnosed with mesothelioma are encouraged to quit smoking immediately. Smoking can influence the development of mesothelioma and worsen the prognosis for mesothelioma once diagnosed. In fact, people who smoke and are exposed to asbestos are 90 times more likely to eventually develop a case of lung cancer.3 Further, smokers are not as responsive to mesothelioma treatment as non smokers.
Smoking and Other Asbestos Diseases
In addition to mesothelioma, smoking significantly increases the likelihood of getting other asbestos-related diseases as a result of exposure.2 Smokers who have been diagnosed with asbestosis are much more likely to develop mesothelioma than non smokers.
The Case of Kent Cigarettes Asbestos Filters
In the 1950s, the general public was becoming fully aware of the health complications associated with smoking cigarettes. To counteract the negative associations, some companies began making innovative new cigarette filters which were purported to remove the harmful toxins in cigarettes. One of these new filters was the “Micronite filter” made by Kent cigarettes in the early 1950s. These filters were manufactured with up to 25% crocidolite asbestos – the most dangerous form of asbestos as it is incredibly small and likely to embed in the innermost parts of the lungs.
Crocidolite asbestos is so dangerous that studies have indicated it may be responsible for a greater number of asbestos related deaths than any other type of asbestos. It’s dangerous because the fibers are so thin that they can be easily inhaled. Once inhaled, they can then quickly become lodged in human tissue.
From 1952 to 1956, Kent cigarettes sold approximately 13 billion of their Micronite filter cigarettes containing asbestos according to the U.S. government. Even though Kent later removed the asbestos from their cigarette filters, the filters are still responsible for exposing thousands of people to asbestos. Those who smoked the Kent cigarettes and those who worked in factories where the asbestos containing filters were manufactured have experienced health problems. Though there isn’t any specific information about the deadly effects of the Micronite filters it can be concluded that the toxins in the Kent cigarettes only increased the likelihood of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases. The long latency period for mesothelioma, as much as 40 years, means some people still may not know they have mesothelioma yet from crocidolite exposure.
The moral of the story is that you should avoid asbestos exposure through education and you should not smoke. If you know you have developed mesothelioma, then you should contact an attorney to discuss possible compensation from one of the many funds established concerning asbestos.
1 Sculier, Jean-Paul, Berghmans, Thierry, and Meert, Anne-Pascale. (2010) Update in Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. V181; 773-781.
2 Dodson, R. and Hammar, S. Asbestos: Risk Assessment, Epidemiology, and Health Effects. Taylor & Francis: Boca Raton. 2006.
3 The Asbestos Informer. (9 February 2011) Retrieved from Environmental Protection Agency at: http://www.epa.gov/region4/air/asbestos/inform.htm