Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

1950s cigarette filters blamed nationwide for asbestos injuries

During the middle of the last century, public awareness of the dangers of cigarette smoking was in its infancy. Lorillard Tobacco, a company still among the top three U.S. cigarette manufacturers, decided to soothe customers' health worries by adding a "Micronite" filter to its Kent brand cigarettes.

For more than four years, Lorillard sold Kent Micronite filtered cigarettes. Documents circulated among company executives showed concerns over the filter's contents, which included asbestos. Health risks associated with smoking were new in Pittsburgh in the 50s, but the public was well aware asbestos caused breathing disorders.

Thirteen billion Kent cigarettes after it introduced the "healthy" cigarette brand, Lorillard dropped the Micronite filter in favor of alternate design.

In the decades that followed, some Kent smokers developed mesothelioma and other asbestos injuries. The deadly conditions and diseases were also prevalent among filter and cigarette manufacturing employees who had repeated contact with the tainted filters.

Asbestos-related diseases are contracted long before symptoms are obvious. The conditions remain dormant for decades. Consequently, claims against Lorillard and Micronite filter-maker Hollingsworth & Vose didn't surface for many years. Several dozen cases were settled by Lorillard in the recent past; about five dozen are unresolved.

Plaintiffs have had limited success in civil cases against the manufacturers. It's hard for asbestos injury sufferers to produce evidence of a link between their diseases and the asbestos filters. It's also difficult for aged plaintiffs to prove they smoked Kent Micronites six decades ago.

Lorillard and the filter maker have won 17 of 23 filter disputes that went to trial, partly on the assertion that few asbestos fibers escaped the Kent cigarette filters. A notable legal failure last month ended with an order for the defendants to pay a mesothelioma sufferer $3.5 million.

An asbestos-injured plaintiff's personal legal claim may not end with death. Personal injury attorneys also represent families of wrongful death victims.

Source:, "Legal Battles Smolder Six Decades After 'the Greatest Health Protection in Cigarette History'" Myron Levin, Oct. 22, 2013

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