spudtater: (Default)
( Jun. 7th, 2010 01:09 pm)

A little piece of cigarette history I've only just discovered:

By the early 1950s, the link between smoking and lung cancer–long discussed in medical journals–was getting increased attention in the popular press. As they do to this day, the tobacco companies denied smoking was dangerous, but behaved as if they knew better. Threatened with the loss of jittery customers, they launched new filter brands to convince smokers their habit could be safe. [...] Once an oddity, the filter tip soon dominated cigarette sales, as millions who might have quit were able to rationalize their habit, thanks to these "safer" smokes. Smokers bought L&M filters, said to be "just what the doctor ordered!" They bought Parliaments, which provided "maximum health protection." And they bought Kent, whose "Micronite" filter made the biggest splash of all.

Kent was launched in 1952 by P. Lorillard Co. and named for its president, Herbert A. Kent. Something of a maverick among the cigarette makers, Lorillard came closest to admitting that cigarettes were harmful. It promoted Kent as the brand for "the 1 out of every 3 smokers who is unusually sensitive to tobacco tars and nicotine." It said Kent offered them "the greatest health protection in cigarette history."

In double page magazine ads that played on the public’s gee-whiz faith in science and technology, Lorillard said its quest for the new filter "ended in an atomic energy plant, where the makers of KENT found a material being used to filter air of microscopic impurities."

"What is ‘Micronite’?" another ad asked. "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."

In reality, the Micronite filter–whose actual composition the ads never revealed–contained a particularly dangerous form of asbestos. [...] There was asbestos in the filter from 1952 at least until 1957. During this time, according to sales figures, Americans puffed their way through over 13 billion Kents. It is unknown if Kent smokers inhaled asbestos from the filter, or if they have experienced a higher rate of cancer than smokers of other brands.

Lorillard would not respond to written questions on this subject, nor to separate requests to three vice presidents to tell the company’s side. The company offered a single piece of information: "We do not have asbestos in our products, nor have we had for many years," said Sara Ridgway, Lorillard vice president for public relations. "That is all I’m going to say."

— "The Greatest Health Protection In Cigarette History!", Myron Levin, 1987

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