Written by: Shepard Law Firm Staff

November is lung cancer awareness month and with good reason. According to the American Lung Association, “Lung cancer causes more deaths than colorectal, breast and prostate cancers combined. An estimated 158,040 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer in 2015, accounting for approximately 27 percent of all cancer deaths.”

What causes lung cancer?
Most people know that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer and if you’re a man the risk is even higher. In a recent study conducted by the US Surgeon General, it was reported that that male smokers are twenty-five times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smoking males. Many of us also know that occupational exposure to asbestos is another risk factor that increases your chances of developing lung cancer. However, the general public is not as aware of the synergetic effect that occurs when smoking and exposure to asbestos are combined. For these individual, the risk of developing lung cancer doesn’t just increase – it multiples.

Combining smoking and asbestos exposure multiplies risk
For reasons that are not yet completely understood, asbestos poses a greater risk for lung cancer in individuals who smoke cigarettes. It is generally accepted that smoking and asbestos exposure have a synergistic effect. This means that smoking and asbestos combines in the lungs in a way that multiplies the risks that either would have on its own, although studies differ as to the extent of the multiplying effect.

This multiplying of risks is of great significance because the vast majority of individuals who worked with or around asbestos-containing products were also smokers. Consider the occupations that are most often associated with asbestos exposure:

  • Shipyard workers
  • Navy veterans, particular those who worked in the engine and boiler rooms
  • Insulators, pipecoverers and laggers
  • Pipefitters and plumbers
  • Boilermakers
  • Machinists and millwrights
  • Plasterers and drywall installers
  • Auto mechanics

Men who worked in these occupations were extremely likely to have smoked. In over twenty years of representing victims of asbestos exposure, I can count on two hands the number of lung cancer cases where my client was a lifelong non-smoker and we can understand why. These trades occurred in environments where smoking was not only allowed, it was socially encouraged. Most construction crews were given smoking breaks during the day.

“I have had clients tell me that they weren’t really interested in smoking, but they started doing it because they didn’t want to be left out of the smoking breaks that their buddies were allowed to take.”
—Mike Shepard

US military veterans were practically told to smoke – until 1975 cigarettes were included in K-rations and C-rations. A machinist mate in the United States Navy worked in an engine room that was loaded with asbestos insulation, gaskets and packing, while regularly smoking cigarettes. It is no wonder that so many of my clients are former Navy firemen, machinist mates, electricians and the like. They spent their working hours in a windowless compartment surrounded by boilers, turbines, pumps, valves and a multitude of other equipment that incorporated asbestos insulation, gaskets and packing. That equipment was in constant need of service and repair, creating daily exposures to asbestos. All the while, these veterans were smoking cigarettes as a way to deal with the stress and monotony of life on board a Navy ship. Now, decades later, those two carcinogens have combined in their lungs to cause cancer.

What can you do?
Throughout this month please join us – advocates, survivors, caregivers and family members – as we show support for the lung cancer community and recognize the toll that both smoking and exposure to asbestos has taken, and continues to take, on the men and women who built this country and the service men and women who have protected it.

We want you to know your rights. If you or a loved one suffers from Mesothelioma or lung cancer, call for information on how we can help. Time is of the essence, so call us today (617) 451-9191.