Big Tobacco Is Burned by Asbestos Filters

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BALTIMORE: For tobacco companies, asbestos is only feeding the flames. A jury on Thursday awarded $2.2 million to Charles Connor, 75, who smoked Kent cigarettes for eight years in the '50s when their filters were made of asbestos. Connor sued after he was diagnosed in June 1997 with mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos -- and the jury decided that Lorillard Inc., maker of Kents, and and Hollingsworth & Vose Co., which made the "Micronite" filters used in the cigarettes, "disappeared" a 1954 study that showed asbestos was leaking into the smoke. It's not much of a legal precedent -- except for other Kent smokers -- but TIME senior writer Adam Cohen says that for tobacco companies, it's just about as bad.

"Verdicts like this are like an advertisement for other smokers to bring a suit of their own," says TIME legal correspondent Adam Cohen. "And though it wasn't so long ago that Big Tobacco hadn't lost a case, the tide is definitely turning." Lorillard's claims that other studies showed that the asbestos didn't bleed into the smoke -- and that 1950s medical journals rated Kent as one of the best cigarettes for removing harmful tar -- fell on unsympathetic ears. So did the more traditional argument, that smokers knew the risks when they lit up. The problem was, Connor did -- and that's why switched to Kents before quitting 37 years ago.