The dangers of asbestos and smoking apply to many naval vets.

Many Naval Vets were exposed to asbestos while in service, and it can make cigarette smoking much more likely to result in lung cancer.

But compensation is available for Naval vets for asbestos exposure, even if they were lifelong smokers.

Asbestos continues to claim thousands of lives each and every year. 

While Americans of all ages and backgrounds could be exposed to potentially life-threatening concentrations of asbestos, naval veterans are among the highest-risk groups in the entire country. For decades, the United States Navy required the use of asbestos-containing materials on almost every ship constructed before the early 1980s. 

For many decades, nearly every inch of naval vessels contained asbestos. Many Naval vets were exposed.

Although the Navy had doubts about asbestos’s safety, the service believed that this so-called “miracle mineral” could help keep ships and sailors safe from fire. 

We know today that no amount of asbestos can be considered safe: asbestos exposure has been associated with a variety of serious illnesses, up to and including cancer. Any U.S. Navy veteran who served aboard a military vessel between the 1930s and early 1980s could be at risk for asbestos-related diseases.


If you may have been exposed to asbestos, speak with your healthcare provider about tests and screening to help detect the presence of asbestos fibers and asbestos-related damage.

However, asbestos affects everyone differently. Just as some military occupational specialties had elevated rates of asbestos exposure, veterans’ lifestyle choices could impact their chance of developing certain illnesses. 

While scientists are still trying to understand the relationship between military service, asbestos exposure, and cigarette smoking, researchers believe that U.S. Navy veterans who have a history of both asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking are significantly more likely to develop lung cancer than veterans who have a history of only asbestos exposure or a history of only cigarette smoking. 

“The overall evidence suggests there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.”

Source: National Cancer Institute (NIH)1

Asbestos in the Navy

Asbestos is a term used to refer to a category of six naturally occurring minerals, each of which exhibits seemingly incredible qualities. Asbestos is inherently: 

  • Resilient
  • Strong
  • Anti-corrosive
  • Electricity resistant
  • Heat resistant

People have sought out asbestos for its seemingly “miraculous” qualities for thousands of years. However, asbestos production in the United States only began to peak in the early 1900s, as home builders, heavy industry, and manufacturers believed the substance could help meet the country’s growing demand for cheap consumer products and inexpensive urban housing. 

Much of WWII-era asbestos manufacturing was directed toward naval use.

Asbestos was used in all branches of the U.S. armed forces. But beginning in the 1930s, the United States Navy also began ordering massive amounts of asbestos-based products, hoping the substance could fireproof ships and prevent potentially catastrophic accidents. 

Asbestos was used to fireproof and strengthen naval vessels of all kinds.

Asbestos was used to create and reinforce many parts of U.S. Naval vessels

  • Adhesives 
  • Bedding compounds 
  • Cables 
  • Fuel lines
  • Gaskets 
  • Packing materials 
  • Pipe insulation 
  • Textiles 
  • Valves 

While scientists began raising concerns about asbestos in the mid-20th-century, the Navy continued using asbestos aboard its ships until the early 1980s, when the federal government began banning the import, manufacture, and sale of most asbestos-containing materials. 

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The Medical Dangers of Asbestos Exposure 

Asbestos is a known human carcinogen, capable of causing serious disease up to and including cancer.  

Sailors who worked with and around asbestos-containing materials could have inadvertently inhaled asbestos fibers—fibers so small they are invisible to the naked eye. 

Once asbestos enters the body, it can accumulate inside the lungs. Unfortunately, asbestos’s resiliency is what makes it so dangerous. Since the body’s natural immune system lacks the means to destroy asbestos, the fibers can stay stuck inside the lungs for years, causing significant scarring and inflammation. 

The American Lung Association has stated that once inhaled or swallowed, some asbestos fibers never leave the body.2

Sometimes, the body’s inability to fight asbestos can trigger a series of mutations, which could prompt uncontrollable cellular growth. Left unchecked, a mutated cell could rapidly multiply, transforming into a malignant and cancerous tumor. 

Although asbestos exposure is most often associated with mesothelioma, an unusually aggressive cancer, it can also facilitate other illnesses of similar severity

“Generally, those who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness for a long time after exposure.”

Source: National Cancer Institute (NIH)3

Cigarette Smoking and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos and smoking work together to increase the likelihood of lung cancer.

This is known in medical terms as a “synergistic effect”.

Asbestos and cigarette smoking have both been tied to lung cancer. 

People who have a history of cigarette smoking are: 

  • Between 15 and 20 times more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than people who do not smoke. 
  • Have a 10 to 20 percent life-time chance of developing lung cancer. 
  • Account for roughly 80 percent of all lung cancer cases each and every year. 

Asbestos exposure has similarly been linked to: 

  • An increased risk of lung cancer, with about 4 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses attributable to asbestos exposure. 

The Relationship Between Asbestos Exposure, Cigarette Smoking, and Lung Cancer 

Taken separately, both cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure increase an individual’s life-time odds of developing lung cancer. 

However, a growing body of research suggests that cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure could have a synergistic and multiplicative effect

  1. People who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop cancer than people who have never smoked. 
  1. People with a history of occupational, environmental, or secondary asbestos exposure are more likely to develop lunger cancer than people with no prior history of asbestos exposure.
  1. People who have histories of both combustible tobacco use abuse and asbestos exposure are significantly more likely to develop lung cancer than people who have a history of only cigarette smoking or a history of only asbestos exposure. 

How Cigarette Smoking Makes Asbestos Exposure Worse 

Scientists are still struggling to understand the relationship between tobacco use, asbestos exposure, and serious medical conditions such as a lung cancer and malignant pleural mesothelioma

Smoking could affect the clinical severity of asbestos-related illnesses by: 

Suppressing the body’s immunity system

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can get trapped inside the lungs and its pleural lining, causing extensive scarring and substantial inflammation. Cigarette smoking can further compromise the body’s natural ability to eradicate embedded asbestos fibers.  

Damaging lung tissue

Cigarette smoke and asbestos fibers can both scar lung tissue. Since smoking hinders the body’s ability to defend and repair itself, the lungs can sustain more damage from asbestos exposure than they otherwise would. 

Impairing the lungs’ natural functions

Regular tobacco abuse can damage the small, brush-like cilia of the bronchus. Cilia, which help remove foreign particles from the airway, are integral to respiratory function. Tobacco smoke can degrade the cilia and destroy other respiratory functions, making it more difficult for the lungs to circulate blood and oxygen. 

Understanding the Synergistic Effect Between Tobacco Use and Asbestos 

Scientists know that smoking and asbestos exposure can erode the body’s ability to stay healthy and heal itself after injury. 

However, researchers cannot fully understand why people who have histories of tobacco abuse and asbestos exposure face an elevated risk for developing lung cancer. 

Consider these facts about asbestos and cigarette smoking: 

  • Smoking increases an individual’s life-time risk of lung cancer 10-fold; and
  • Asbestos exposure increases an individual’s life-time risk of lung cancer 5-fold; but
  • Smoking and asbestos exposure, taken together, increase an individual’s risk of lung cancer 50-fold.

Separately, cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure could both be considered “risk factors” for lung cancer. 

Since an individual’s risk of developing lung cancer increases significantly with both risk factors present, researchers consider the interaction between cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure a “multiplicative effect.” 

Ongoing research on the synergistic effects of asbestos and smoking cigarettes.

Researchers do not yet know exactly why cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure produce such a pronounced effect. One proposed theory suggests that asbestos fibers act as a cancer-causing carcinogen by generating free radicals and other highly reactive oxygen species. 

These tiny, highly reactive molecules can damage tissues and prompt the uncontrollable cellular growth characteristic of cancerous tumors. 

The Asbestos Industry and Big Tobacco 

We know today that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. 

While the United States still does not have a full-scale ban on asbestos, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has restricted the manufacture, import, and use of most asbestos-based products since 1989. 

However, the asbestos industry already knew that its products were dangerous. From the early 1900s onward, asbestos companies began commissioning their own reports on the “miracle mineral’s” reportedly toxic health effects. 

But when asbestos companies learned that their products were killing workers and endangering the public, they did not raise the alarm—instead, they let American workers and American consumers continue to put their lives on the line, choosing to prioritize their profits over hardworking and honest people

AsbestosClaims.Law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos, including info on health and compensation for Air Force Veterans and other former Service Members. We hope this is helpful and are grateful to all who have given of themselves to defend us all.

Many veterans, industrial workers and their families were exposed to asbestos and developed asbestos-related illnesses, including cancers like mesothelioma. Treatment of asbestos-related illnesses can be ongoing and very expensive, and in addition to workers’ compensation and other legal claims, many victims qualify for compensation from asbestos-bankruptcy trusts, usually without a lawsuit.

If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, check out our website and YouTube page for videos, infographics and answers to your questions about asbestos, including health and safety, asbestos testing, removing asbestos from your home and building, and legal information about compensation for asbestos injuries.

And if you believe that you were exposed to asbestos, or have been diagnosed with an asbestos illness, you could be entitled to significant compensation—money you could use to cover the costs of asbestos removal services, pay for medical treatment, and preemptively protect your physical well-being. 

All without filing a lawsuit.

If you’d like help with filing a claim, please get in touch by email at [email protected], or call or text us at (833) 4-ASBESTOS (427-2378) or (206) 455-9190. We’ll listen to your story and explain your options. And we never charge for anything unless you receive money in your pocket.

1 National Cancer Institute (NIH), Asbestos Fact Sheet.
2 American Lung Association, Asbestos, How Asbestos Impacts Health (updated 2022).
3 National Cancer Institute (NIH), Asbestos Fact Sheet.