Lung cancer is a severe health concern, and exposure to asbestos and cigarette smoking are two of the most common causes. When an individual is exposed to both asbestos and cigarettes, the risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer is about 50-84 times higher than a non-smoker who is exposed to asbestos. But what creates such a synergistic relationship between the two?
Risks of Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos fibers are tiny and easily inhaled; once they are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs and other tissues, where they can cause irritation and inflammation. Over time, this irritation can lead to the development of cancerous tumors or other serious health problems. Even short-term asbestos exposure can be detrimental to one’s health.
The Effects of Smoking with Asbestos Exposure
Smokers exposed to asbestos are at an even higher risk of developing lung cancer. The synergistic link between cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure directly results from the damage that cigarette smoking causes to the lungs. Researchers have discussed various mechanisms that may explain why cigarette smoking increases the risk of lung cancer from asbestos exposure:
- Suppresses the Immune System - Cigarette smoke negatively impacts the immune system, making it difficult for the body to adequately respond to the asbestos fibers affecting the lungs.
- Damages Lung Cilia - Smoking cigarettes damages not only your lungs but also the tiny hairs (cilia) that line them. These cilia help to remove particles, like asbestos fibers, from your lung’s airways. When you smoke, the cilia become damaged and less able to do their job.
- Reduces Oxygen Absorption - When you smoke, the chemicals in cigarettes damage your lung alveoli. These are the tiny air sacs in your lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. The damage to your alveoli makes it harder for oxygen to get into your bloodstream.
Overall, the damage caused by smoking makes it difficult for the body to combat already present asbestos fibers and easier for new asbestos fibers to become lodged in the lungs.
$43.1 Million Verdict in Asbestos-Cigarette Lung Cancer Trial
In 2015, Louis Summerlin passed away at 73 years old as a result of lung cancer. An auto mechanic, he was constantly exposed to asbestos fibers from working with vehicle brakes throughout his 35-year career. Mr. Summerlin also smoked menthol cigarettes for over 50 years.
The Summerlin family, with the help of Levy Konigsberg, went against R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris for manufacturing the cigarettes Mr. Summerlin smoked and Hampden Automotive Sales Corporation for manufacturing brakes containing asbestos that Mr. Summerlin worked with as a mechanic. This case was the first-ever lung cancer trial tried against the companies responsible for both the exposure to cigarette smoke and asbestos.
Levy Konigsberg was able to obtain $43.1 million ($13.1 million in economic and non-economic damages, $30 million in punitive damages) from R.J. Reynolds to compensate the Summerlin family.
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