Smoking and Asbestos Exposure: Exponential Magnification of the Health Risks


Smoking And Asbestos Exposure

Smoking and asbestos exposure are almost without question the two most well known and medically significant lung-disease related health issues. Asbestos, once a popular, effective, and low-cost option for residential and commercial insulation, has become synonymous with crippling lung disease and class action litigation. Even for those unsure exactly what asbestos is, it is now widely known that it is hazardous and to be avoided at all costs. Similarly, where smoking was once so common that people could light up just about anywhere – it was generally thought to be harmless or even healthy! – In the 21st century, everyone is fully aware of the dangers of smoking. If the risks and hazards have been widely publicized, through the efforts of both government and private business (not to mention the almost hourly television commercials form hungry lawyers looking for clients injured by asbestos), then what else is there to say about the damage caused by smoking and asbestos exposure?

Simply this: when these two hazards are combined in a single individual, the risk of illness and death isn’t simply added together – the risks are multiplied, becoming exponentially more deadly. Unfortunately, the general far less knows this aspect of the twin hazards of smoking and asbestos public. The science is still unclear as to the biological mechanism behind this phenomenon, but what is clear is that when someone who smokes is also exposed to asbestos, their chances of developing lung cancer, emphysema, mesothelioma, and other diseases of the lungs increase dramatically. It helps to think of it as a mathematical problem involving not addition, but multiplication: in other words, if a heavy smoker has a hypothetical 30% chance of developing lung cancer and an individual with moderate long-term asbestos exposure has a 10% chance of developing the disease, you might assume that if both factors were present in the same individual, their health risk would amount to adding the numbers together. But the reality is that for those exposed to both hazards, it is far more accurate to multiply risk rather than add.

To illustrate with a real-world example, a recent study explored the interaction of three factors: asbestos exposure, diagnosis of asbestosis (the medical condition that arises from asbestos exposure) and smoking. The study concluded that when an individual displays all three of these risks factors, her risk of developing cancer is more than THIRTY SEVEN TIMES higher.

There are two key points to this medical revelation. The first is that just as wide-spread reporting on the risks of both smoking and asbestos exposure has effectively educated the public about the risks and worked to decrease rates of lung disease, we must now make similar efforts to highlight the extreme danger of exposing smokers to asbestos. Smokers must eliminate even limited contact with asbestos, and must not be allowed to work in asbestos removal; the risks are simply too great, and for the moment they are simply too unaware.

And of course for you, the reader, this warning is personal: if you are a smoker, avoid asbestos at all costs. While it would be best, of course, to quit smoking altogether – if you do smoke, remember that even slight exposure to asbestos may significantly impact your health. Spread the word!