It’s hard to think of anything more reckless than adding a deadly carcinogen to a product that already causes cancer—and then bragging about the health benefits.
Yet that’s precisely what Lorillard Tobacco did 60 years ago when it introduced Kent cigarettes, whose patented “Micronite” filter contained a particularly virulent form of asbestos.
Smokers puffed their way through 13 billion Kents between March 1952 and May 1956, when Lorillard changed the filter design.
Six decades later, the legal fallout continues a Florida jury has awarded more than $3.5 million in damages to a former Kent smoker stricken with mesothelioma, an extremely rare and deadly asbestos-related cancer that typically shows up decades after the initial exposures.
Lorillard and Hollingsworth & Vose, the company that supplied the asbestos filter material, face numerous claims from mesothelioma sufferers, both factory workers who produced the cigarettes or filter material and former smokers who say they inhaled the microscopic fibers. (The companies insist that hardly any fibres escaped.)
“Micronite” one ad boasted, is “a pure, dust-free, completely harmless material that is so safe, so effective, it actually is used to help filter the air in operating rooms.”
Kent was Lorillard’s response to the health scare of the early 1950s, when the link between smoking and lung cancer began drawing wide attention. Tobacco companies scurried to roll out filters to calm jittery smokers and keep them from quitting in droves.
The health benefits would prove illusory, but the switch to filters averted the potential loss of millions of customers. “The industry’s own researchers admitted that filters did nothing to make cigarettes safer,” notes Robert Proctor, a Stanford University historian whose 2012 book, Golden Holocaust, covers Big Tobacco’s tactics in painstaking detail.
“Philip Morris scientists in 1963 admitted that ‘the illusion of filtration’ was as important as ‘the fact of filtration.”
The poor wife and daughter scrape together some meagre clothes to take to the Pawn Shop, so that they can buy another bottle of booze for the drunkard husband asleep and almost comatose.
If he gets upset and punishes them and the kids as well the cards are stacked his way in the 19th Century.
And today, in most cultures women and their children are still open to that physical harm, mental abuse and abject poverty for them and their loved ones.
“Have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down,” advised advertisements for Bex, a cure-all manufactured from 1965 by Beckers Pty Ltd manufacturing chemists in Sydney.
Bex was recommended for headaches, colds and flu, all nerve pains, rheumatism, and for “calming down” the overexcited.
Bex powders were taken by dissolving them in water or a cup of tea, and some people took as many as three powders a day.
Aspirin – Chemically known as acetylsalicylic acid, this drug acts on the body as an anti-inflammatory, helping to alleviate pain, fever, headache and other symptoms.
The maximum recommended daily dose of aspirin is 1 g (1000 mg), as it can lead to stomach bleeding. A single bex powder (approximately 1 gram) contained 420 mg of aspirin.
Phenacetin – This chemical was widely used with aspirin and caffeine as a fever and pain reliever. It acts primarily on the nervous system, targeting the sensory tracts of the spinal cord, the brain and the heart.
It was withdrawn from use in 1983 due to its damaging action on the kidneys and carcinogenic properties. Each Bex powder contained 420 mg of phenacetin.
Caffeine – Found in coffee, tea and soft drinks, caffeine is a powerful nervous system stimulant. In combination with aspirin, it can give greater pain relief than aspirin alone.
More than 250mg of caffeine a day can lead to unpleasant side effects like sleeplessness, irritability and heart palpitations. A single Bex powder contained approximately 160mg.
In the 1960s, housewives routinely used Bex to get through the day. However, once it was recognised that these substances were addictive and large doses of phenacetin taken by habitual uses were resulting in widespread kidney disease, analgesics came under government regulation in the 1970s.
With all those gleaming, stainless-steel tools readied for painful prodding, few people look forward to visiting the dentist.
But modern dentistry is a walk in the park compared with archaic methods of treating oral maladies:
Be glad you’re not seeking treatment for mysterious “tooth worms” or using dentures filled with the syphilitic teeth of dead soldiers.
“By the time Washington was elected president, he only had one natural tooth remaining in his mouth.”