It was sadly announced yesterday that Mary Tyler Moore, American television icon, passed away at age 80.
Moore, who had reportedly been on a respirator for the last week, died from a cardiac arrest caused by pneumonia complications. She passed while hospitalized in her hometown in Connecticut, surrounded by friends and her husband of 33 years. During her lifetime, she suffered from various conditions – such as type 1 diabetes, alcoholism, and benign meningioma – but had otherwise remained strong until recently.
Moore was born in Brooklyn, New York, and rose to international fame after moving to Los Angeles at 8-years-old. Over the course of a sensational career spanning 4 decades, Moore was an on-screen actress, Broadway star, media personality, author, and television producer. She was most widely known for her roles in beloved sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show – which she also produced – and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Later, Moore was active in charity work, outspokenly championing animal rights, women’s rights, and diabetes issues.
She was known by many as an inspirational figure in entertainment. Moore not only won 7 Emmy awards and an Oscar nomination, but she was also credited as the person to liberate women from the then-commonplace housewife stereotype. “I think Mary Tyler Moore has probably had more influence on my career than any other single person or force,” Oprah Winfrey said in a recent PBS documentary about the actress.
What Moore is little-known for are her various side projects, including a handful of short-lived CBS series, guest appearances, and the opening of a Civil War studies center in honor of her father. She also appeared in several ads and commercials: 1 on which she endorsed President Jimmy Carter for re-election in 1980. Some might also remember the old Kent Cigarette campaigns starring Moore and Dick Van Dyke.
The Unknown Dangers of Kent Cigarettes
In the 1960s, cigarette ads were not uncommon. After World War II, companies began falling over each other to sponsor primetime TV shows. It wasn’t until the latter part of the swinging 60s that the dangers of tobacco gained interest and anti-smoking public service announcements were introduced. The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act finally banned all TV and radio cigarette ads in 1971.
But prior to this, Moore modeled cigarettes produced by Kent, a brand owned by the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. In these commercials, Moore and Van Dyke glamorized – even humorized – the concept of smoking in a way that was acceptable then but unheard of today.
Of course, cigarette consumers later understood the health risks involved. But unfortunately for customers who bought into Kent ads, this brand’s cigarettes were later revealed to be much more dangerous than most.
Promising consumers the “greatest health protection in history,” Kent really ballooned in sales in the 50s for its “famous micronite filter.” This micronite filter, in fact, was far from beneficial to health – it contained carcinogenic blue asbestos.
Deadly Asbestos Use in Cigarette Filters
Blue asbestos, 1 of several types of asbestos, was popularly used in products for its efficient heat resistance. It was for this reason that the mineral was believed to be useful for cigarette filters, which were produced by Lorillard and Hollingsworth & Vose.
But its “useful” properties came at a price. Asbestos is an extremely dangerous substance when its airborne fibers are inhaled, and the associated health risks can be lethal. It is therefore suspected that many cases of asbestos-related disease – such as mesothelioma, a deadly cancer – stemmed from smoking Kent cigarettes.
It’s extremely unfortunate, of course, that neither Moore nor her fans were to know the extent of this risk. Kent is only 1 in a long line of companies that kept the truth from the public for shameless commercial gain.
Due to the acceptance of smoking in the mid-20th century, endorsement of the micronite filter undoubtedly caused a significant number of deaths. Thankfully, asbestos use in cigarette products has since been banned and lawsuits have been brought against these dishonest companies. But mesothelioma has a long latency period, often 20-50 years, meaning that possible victims of Kent’s micronite filters – those very filters advertised by Mary Tyler Moore –are still developing symptoms to this day.
Lorillard still faces numerous pending lawsuits; this, on top of the millions of dollars already paid out to unwitting consumers. At least this can be a kind of justice in Moore’s memory, and for those kept in the dark who have thus far lived to tell the tale.