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Congresswoman's lawsuit sparks debate over smoking and asbestos

On this blog, we often discuss the fact that companies and manufacturers have known for decades that products with asbestos can pose a serious threat to a person's health. Airborne asbestos can enter a person's lungs and do some serious damage, causing a person to develop various types of cancer, including lung cancer.

The dangers associated with asbestos exposure can be bad enough on their own. But this exposure combined with smoking cigarettes can increase the risk of developing lung cancer significantly. In fact, people who smoke and have been exposed to asbestos are about 4,000 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than those who only smoke. No doubt, asbestos exposure can be a significant factor in lung cancer.

So why are so many people angry about a congresswoman with lung cancer who recently filed a claim against 70 asbestos suppliers and manufacturers? The answer: She is also a smoker.

News outlets have not been shy about voicing opinions on Carolyn McCarthy, a New York politician, and her decision to file a lawsuit against companies accused of negligent asbestos practices. She has been accused of taking advantage of the legal system and trying to blame other companies her lung cancer, even though she smoked for decades. But while her habit may have been a contributing factor, it does not mean that it was the sole factor. She could have already suffered lung damage long before she picked up a cigarette.

McCarthy herself never worked with asbestos, but as we have seen in so many other cases, her father did when he worked in the Navy shipyards and as a boiler maker. Her father would routinely track the toxic dust back home after work, exposing his family members to asbestos. Many people have developed asbestos-related diseases in this manner, including people who never smoked a day in their lives.

The combination of asbestos exposure and smoking can be a deadly one. But it is important to realize that just because a lung cancer victim smokes or used to smoke, that does not mean he or she cannot pursue damages from manufacturers if their products contained asbestos and may have contributed to the cancer. It can be a difficult and confusing process, but people can work with an attorney to explore their options when it comes to taking legal action against a negligent party. 

Source: The New York Post, "Politician with cancer smoked for 40 years, sues over asbestos," Tara Palmeri, Nov. 8, 2013

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