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Great Advances in Smoking Safety

Article #108 • Written by Cynthia Wood

Smoking tobacco has been around practically forever, but cigarettes as a commercial product are actually a fairly recent invention. Before the Crimean War most Europeans smoked pipes or cigars. During the war, however, English soldiers picked up the habit of rolling their tobacco in newsprint from their Turkish allies. Being small, easy to light, and easy to carry around with you, the advent of the pre-made cigarette shortly thereafter allowed for an explosion in the amount of tobacco the average person could smoke.

Not surprisingly, when people started to take notice of the negative health effects of smoking, the tobacco industry responded by trying to produce safer cigarettes – or at the least cigarettes they could convince people were safer. Mentholated cigarettes were brought out around this time, the thought being that menthol vapors were good for the lungs.

The other major “safer” cigarette that was brought out was the filtered cigarette. Unfortunately for the smokers who used them, though, one of the first efforts at a filtered cigarette has to be considered a miss. The P. Lorillard Co., in making its first filters, decided to go with something readily available that they already knew made an efficient filter – asbestos.

Asbestos must have seemed the perfect solution at the time. It could be spun into tiny fibers, making a highly effective filter capable of trapping smoke particles down to 1 micron. It was readily available and not too expensive to use, at least in a premium brand. Lorillard launched the Kent cigarette in 1952 with a Micronite filter. It was advertised as “The greatest health protection in cigarette history.” "What is ‘Micronite’?" went another ad. "It’s a pure, dust-free, completely harmless material that is so safe, so effective, it actually is used to help filter the air in hospital operating rooms."

Unfortunately both for Lorillard and their customers, the reality was a little different. The Micronite filters were 30% crocidolite, otherwise known as Brazilian blue asbestos, considered to be one of the most dangerous forms of asbestos. Implicated in both asbestosis and in mesothelioma, a particularly virulent form of lung cancer, asbestos is not exactly considered a health benefit for the lungs. Even worse, the filter made the cigarette hard to draw, resulting in the smoker using heavy suction, and drawing the smoke and filter particles deeply into the lungs.

Regardless of its actual safety, the brand was a hit. Concern about the health hazards of smoking made smokers interested in filtered cigarettes, and Kent became very popular, with over 13 billion cigarettes sold before 1957 when they changed the filter composition. Why they did is unknown, as the P. Lorillard Co. has never said. Lorillard memos of the time simply state that the filter had been “brilliantly improved”. One hopes the new filters provided somewhat better results than “The greatest health protection in cigarette history.”

Article written by Cynthia Wood, published on 03 February 2006. Cynthia is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Edited by Alan Bellows.

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28 Comments
crick
Posted 03 February 2006 at 03:28 pm

Interesting... I can remember my dad puffing away on Kents until he stopped smoking in the late 60s. But it was too late - he died of lung cancer anyway. I guess he took a one-two punch... cigs and asbestos. I miss ya Pop.


Secret Ninja
Posted 03 February 2006 at 03:57 pm

The thing to think about is that something similiar may be happening today. We can look at these people like idiots, but who is to say that something we use on a regular basis is the real cause of increased heart disease, or something like that. We may be looked back on by future historians as some of the dumbest people ever, with the multitudes of chemicals and such being pumped into our bodies.


karphi
Posted 03 February 2006 at 04:18 pm

I agree with Secret Ninja. It's called aspartame...


student
Posted 03 February 2006 at 04:45 pm

I, too, agree: Tetraethyl lead from leaded gasoline may be responsible for increase in neurological diseases. I think even though leaded gas has been phased out, autos still have lead in some of their components that get released into the environment.

Also, chemicals in packaging and newspaper (colored inks) get into all sorts of paper products via recycling.


Sapient
Posted 03 February 2006 at 09:35 pm

To say nothing of mobile phones and the increase in brain tumors.........they all seem like good ideas at the time, but I guess the "instant" society we live in demands the best we can have well before the side effects are well known, athough the conspiracy theorist in me sometimes suspects otherwise.
Nice blog Cynthia.


Eric Leeson
Posted 04 February 2006 at 12:05 am

Our government regulates and profits from prescription drugs that are equally harmful and addictive. Cigarettes are very bad no doubt about it, but there’s an addict we hardly hear of. He doesn’t have to alienate himself from a crowd to get his fix in a corner– all he needs is a glass of water.


chrislewis
Posted 04 February 2006 at 03:03 am

How long until tobacco production halts worldwide? Will it ever be possible?

In Australia, a large (almost half, don't quote me on this) amout of health funing goes towards patients with smoking related diseases.

Stopping production can only be positive. Nicotine is a good start to other, harsher drugs. If we beat nicotine addiction before it transforms into other drugs, the world can only be a better place.


Stuart
Posted 04 February 2006 at 09:57 am

Dunno if I agree with the last comment. I mean theres supposedly evidence that using soft drugs leads to harder drugs (I don't really buy into this) but i've never heard any suggestion that nicotine addiction leads to class A drugs or any drugs for that matter. Theres probably millions of people who smoke cigarettes but have never tried nor ever will try illicit drugs. Still think getting rid of cigarettes would be a good idea in general but then what would be targeted next: marijuana? Alcohol? I really hope not!


Marius
Posted 04 February 2006 at 12:06 pm

I've never bought the 'one drug leads to another harder drug' line. Most of my friends and I were rather fond of the bong back in the day, but none of us moved on to smack or crack or oxycontin. The government seems to need neat little bullet points to justify why one substance is illegal, and another possibly more dangerous one isn't. Compare the social and physical damage done by marijuana use versus alcohol. I have never known of someone smoking a joint then beating their family.

Oh, and to stay on topic, this reminds me of a conversation I once had with my grandmother a few years before she died. I was quitting smoking, and offered her my favorite Zippo lighter since I would no longer need it. She declined because her doctor had warned her that Zippo fumes were dangerous. I was unable to get her to see the serious flaw in that logic, but it proves that human beings can and will believe almost anything if told by an authority figure.


RandomAction
Posted 04 February 2006 at 02:27 pm

Marius: I'm going to make an assumption here; your grandmother was a smoker? If so then that right there is hilarious!

In other news: my understanding is that smokers die early, pay dearly and are a net tax gain. Whilst making cocaine and heroin illegal really put a stop to them being used, didn't it?


Ebex
Posted 04 February 2006 at 08:11 pm

In 50 years people will be reading the same articles about Teflon and Aspartame. But one thing strikes me as strange— back in the Micronite days, people didn't have a clue that asbestos was that bad for you so we can't blame them for trying to be a safer smoker. And yet today there's overwhelming evidence damning Teflon and Aspartame and we drink diet cokes like they were water and eat microwave popcorn out of Teflon-lined bags. The EPA just added Teflon (actually its byproduct, PFOA) to the list of likely carcinogens. Why don't we seem to care?

At a lunch with friends the other day someone said to me, "Pretty much everything gives you cancer, so you might as well not bother thinking about it." I guess that sums it up. Living in this world and enjoying its luxuries means dying of their consequences.


Secret Ninja
Posted 04 February 2006 at 10:17 pm

I think teflon is pretty damned usefull, and it isn't like people are dying off in droves of cancer. Sure, theres and increase in the number of deaths, but there is also an increase in the number of people. Research should continue though, because if it doesn't then we will never know. I am quite positive cell phones don't cause brain tumors, since there was an episode of Bullshit on it, which has never let me down. Penn and Teller are pretty amazing, after all.


MaddMan
Posted 05 February 2006 at 12:20 am

Thirty years ago people thought microwave ovens were going to kill us all, I don't think there's much difference between that and a cell phone.


htid
Posted 05 February 2006 at 06:10 pm

It would suck if you were in that increased number of deaths wouldnt it ninja ?. I must agree with you though.


mHagarty
Posted 06 February 2006 at 10:13 am

I generally just try to be careful. Science has a history of going back and forth on some subjects. So when I hear that Teflon may be bad for me, I start using my cast iron pans as much as possible, but I don't throw the Teflon ones out. Yet.

You can already purchase soda sweetened with Splenda, instead of aspartame. I've been advocating that for a while, although I never understood why people would drink aspartame over sugar. Haven't we known how bad it is for quite some time now?

As for cigarettes, I can't remember if it was on this blog, but I remember hearing someone comment, "Smoking is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, for those who accept their effects."

At this point in time, where we know the effects of smoking, and someone still takes the habit on, then there's nothing more to be said. It's no different than someone taking on a lifestyle of high-altitude skydiving, professional driving, any sort of job or lifestyle that has risks associated with it.

As for cigarette smoking leading to hard drug use? That's pretty hard to buy. I see that train of thought as introduced to try to fight marijuana. I know so many people who smoke pot, who have never tried anything harder.


rhea_sun
Posted 06 February 2006 at 10:49 am

"Smoking is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, for those who accept their effects."

What about second-hand smoke? Do the people who live with smokers, or are near them at any time, have to accept the effects of cigarettes? It sucks to be in a restaurant where the person next to you smokes like a chimney... I feel bad for the servers.


IknowIknowNothing
Posted 06 February 2006 at 03:15 pm

Quick anecdote: I worked with a woman who, upon seeing me open a can of Diet Coke, scoffed audibly and said, "I NEVER drink anything with aspartame in it. That stuff's so bad for you." Then she lit up a cigarette.

mHagarty said: "As for cigarettes, I can't remember if it was on this blog, but I remember hearing someone comment, "Smoking is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, for those who accept their effects. At this point in time, where we know the effects of smoking, and someone still takes the habit on, then there's nothing more to be said."

weeeeell, that would make perfect sense, and I would totally agree. People should not be babysat, they should be responsible for themselves. BUT, what about how one person's indoor cigarette smoking affects someone else, like their young child? Or, even if they smoke outdoors, they're still sending a heavy mixed message to their child who will, unfortunately, choose to follow their parent rather than a stranger's advice. That's where it gets hairy, don't you think?


IknowIknowNothing
Posted 06 February 2006 at 03:27 pm

Oh, I almost forgot. I am a Popular Science junkie, for better or for worse. They did a comparative study a while back on all the artificial sweeteners. I myself am a Splenda-lover, so I was a bit apprehensive to read it. I struggled with the desire to reamain ignorant against finding out that my new habit was instantly cancer-causing. However, my fears were allayed! Turns out it's the safest one. While all the others use aspartame instead of sugar to avoid calories, Splenda uses sugar and something else to get the sweet without the cals.

If you are especially careful about what you put in your body but you love Splenda and dont want to feel conflicted, skip the rest. But if you ever go swimming in a pool, in a hot tub, or drink treated water (which I imagine you might), don't fret.

Splenda makers found that if they added chlorine to sugar, you'd get all the taste of sugar, but the chlorine would somehow keep you from absorbing the actual sugar.
Now, I don't know if safer=SAFE, but, it's worth knowing.


student
Posted 06 February 2006 at 06:40 pm

I just use *less* sugar instead of sugar...


Stuart
Posted 07 February 2006 at 01:53 am

Secret Ninja said: "it isn't like people are dying off in droves of cancer. "

I've heard some statistic (dunno about the accuracy. It was on the BBC news but could have just a government soundbite) that here in Britain 1 in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetime. I'm guessing this figure will be similar to American stats. If so, despite this not being a fatality rate, its still a indication of a major health problem. Agree though that we shouldn't let 'nanny states' develop. Free choice is important.


Matter
Posted 14 February 2006 at 06:21 pm

What's good for you today will be killing you tomorrow...
On cellphones, ever noticed how when someone phones you while you're busy on the PC, how much interference it causes on the screen? It stresses me out a bit when you think about it. We have phone-signals all over the place, satellite-feeds everywhere, soundwaves for the radiostations, IR signals for the telly control etc. etc.
All these signals are in effect moving particles. These particles move through us, right? Or do they? What if they collide with some of your particles? What if they rearrange some of your particles? And oh dear, what if they damage some of your particles on their route to your GPS or your Nokia or your HDTV or whatever?

Think about that the next time you decide to put your mobile in your jean's pocket and someone calls you up to discuss Tuesday's meeting. Think about what's travelling through your brain when you answer that call. Heck, think about your poor nuts when the phone rings!


indra c
Posted 24 February 2006 at 05:57 am

"Great Advances in Smoking Safety"

riiiiight... and pigs glow in the dark, oh no wait, they do!
try again -

riiiiight... and monkeys rule the world, dang! that's a fact.
okay so -

riiiiight... and smoking is a safe practice


The_Smurf_Strangler
Posted 03 April 2006 at 12:22 pm

mHagarty said: "I generally just try to be careful. Science has a history of going back and forth on some subjects. So when I hear that Teflon may be bad for me, I start using my cast iron pans as much as possible, but I don't throw the Teflon ones out. Yet.


You can already purchase soda sweetened with Splenda, instead of aspartame. I've been advocating that for a while, although I never understood why people would drink aspartame over sugar. Haven't we known how bad it is for quite some time now?

As for cigarettes, I can't remember if it was on this blog, but I remember hearing someone comment, "Smoking is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, for those who accept their effects."

At this point in time, where we know the effects of smoking, and someone still takes the habit on, then there's nothing more to be said. It's no different than someone taking on a lifestyle of high-altitude skydiving, professional driving, any sort of job or lifestyle that has risks associated with it.

As for cigarette smoking leading to hard drug use? That's pretty hard to buy. I see that train of thought as introduced to try to fight marijuana. I know so many people who smoke pot, who have never tried anything harder."

If you have diabetes sugar will kill you much faster then aspertame, and splenda is made with sugar so I don't think it would be any better.


The_Smurf_Strangler
Posted 03 April 2006 at 12:24 pm

chrislewis said: "How long until tobacco production halts worldwide? Will it ever be possible?


In Australia, a large (almost half, don't quote me on this) amout of health funing goes towards patients with smoking related diseases.

Stopping production can only be positive. Nicotine is a good start to other, harsher drugs. If we beat nicotine addiction before it transforms into other drugs, the world can only be a better place."

umm then we can censor everything that causes bad thoughts and get rid of all the silly religons too. Yay for big brother.


dewdrop
Posted 06 April 2006 at 02:12 pm

As for the Splenda argument...
Its pretty well known that it has a laxative effect in many people. I've personally known people get hives from it. They know that the chlorine molecules dont always stay attached to the sugar.
Ever hear of chlorine gas? And how its deadly? And that free radicals are bad when they're in your body?
And that it hasnt been tested on kids, but its marketed to them and their parents?

Nice.

At least with other fake sugars, you know what you're getting.

(of course, I'm one of those hippies that likes my real butter and my real sugar and my meat sans-hormones and antibiotics. in moderation, of course.)


Tink
Posted 03 October 2006 at 10:56 pm

My favorite quote on smoking made by Dick Solomon (John Lithgow ) in an episode of Third Rock From The Sun:

"Yes, yes, I know that smoking takes ten years off your life; but that's at the end of your life and those years are crappy anyway." LOL


Hugh G. Rection
Posted 10 December 2006 at 04:28 am

crick said: "Interesting… I can remember my dad puffing away on Kents until he stopped smoking in the late 60s. But it was too late - he died of lung cancer anyway. I guess he took a one-two punch… cigs and asbestos. I miss ya Pop."

Sorry Crick.. but that comment was too funny.. I know its wrong, but.. "I guess he took a one-two punch.. cigs and asbestos. I miss ya Pop" (LOL)..


Jeff☠Relf
Posted 27 November 2007 at 05:14 pm

I can't stand people who can't stand smokers.
My life is all about sticking with the smokers of this world.

As a self-proclaimed “ scientist ”, I love this Kent Ad:
http://www.AliciaPatterson.ORG/APF1005/Levin/Levin00.jpg ”.
[ New York Mirror magazine, 1960 ]


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