Excerpted from The Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society’s full online exhibit on the Micronite cigarette filter.

A New Cigarette Filter…made of asbestos

Attorney Nathan Schachtman discusses asbestos and its bizarre use by the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company in the quest for a safer cigarette.

In 1952, using the popular new medium of television, the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company sponsored “scientific” demonstrations to show the efficacy and implied health benefits of its KENT Micronite filter. The campaign also featured advertisements in medical journals. Although the ads did not disclose the composition of “Micronite,” the material that Lorillard touted as “so safe, so effective it has been selected to help filter the air in hospital operating rooms” and that was used “to purify the air in atomic energy plants of microscopic impurities” was asbestos. This exhibition features a display of the KENT Micronite filter created in 2005 for the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society by asbestos expert Anthony G. Rich.

Also, Dr. Alan Blum interviews attorney Nathan Schachtman, whose 35-year law practice has focused on the defense of product liability suits, with an emphasis on the scientific aspects of exposures to toxic substances from products and environmental sources. He has also taught a course at the Columbia Law School on probability and statistics in the law.

You can find parts one, two, and three of the interviews at the following links:

From 1952 to 1957 the P. Lorillard Company heavily advertised the effectiveness of the Micronite filter on its KENT cigarette brand in capturing the burned tobacco particulate matter known as “tar.” According to asbestos expert Anthony Rich, 15% to 25% of the contents of the Micronite filter was crocidolite asbestos, also called blue asbestos, which was not regulated for this use by the U.S. government. Inhalation of crocidolite asbestos is known to cause cancers of the respiratory system at rates far higher than any of the other four forms of this group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals known as the amphibole mineral family. Chrysotile, the only form of asbestos in the serpentine mineral family, comprises 90 to 95 percent of the asbestos used in insulation, roofing, and fireproofing products in buildings in the United States; it is also used in automobile brake linings, cement, and asphalt. In 1957, Lorillard changed the Micronite filter with crocidolite asbestos to one made of cellulose acetate, synthetic fiber derived from cotton or tree pulp.

Epilogue…or prologue?

Although the story of the KENT Micronite filter story has been told before, such as in the first theme issue on the world cigarette pandemic published by the New York State Journal of Medicine in December 1983, this is the first exhibition about it. 70 years after P. Lorillard Tobacco Company created and introduced it, the asbestos filter sounds insane. But just as ridiculous is that today 99% of cigarettes have filters, even though no cigarette filter reduces the risk of cancer, emphysema, or heart disease. This is because the smoker inhales more deeply to get the smoke through the filter and thus is exposed to greater concentrations of toxic gases and other chemicals.

Ultimately, then, promoting the misinformation that putting a filter on a cigarette would protect the smoker from lung cancer succeeded in allaying consumers’ anxiety. The myth that filtered cigarettes are “safer” than non-filtered cigarettes is a forerunner to recent hoaxes such as that Covid-19 vaccines contain microchips that control your DNA or that ivermectin cures Covid-19. Dr. Tom Novotny and I chose to collaborate on an effort to communicate to the public and health professionals alike about what we call “the filter fraud” because he had been addressing the environmental impact of the non-biodegradable filters while I had been trying to expose the false promise of the “safer cigarette.” We figured that if the public hasn’t gotten the message that the filter doesn’t make smoking any less lethal, then perhaps the public will show concern for the birds and fish that eat and get poisoned by discarded cigarette butts! These last three bonus sections provide a fuller picture of The Filter Fraud.