Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: My Personal Story and the Marlboro Men

Man Breaking Cigarette Habit

[Originally published by the Natural Health Research Institute (NHRI),, August 26, 2015, and reprinted here by kind permission of the author. This touching and relevant article was written by Elwood Richard, Technical Director of NHRI. Mr. Richard developed malignant pleural mesothelioma from asbestos exposure as a young man.]

Recently I have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a disease caused by exposure to asbestos. My only exposure was sixty years ago when I used asbestos to insulate a lab furnace. I can’t remember if I was warned to use a mask when working with asbestos, but did not. Mesothelioma has hampered my activities to where at the start of my treatments I was only able to walk 100 yards at a time. With a lot of time to think about why this happened to me, I thought of the Marlboro Men. Like me, they made choices with serious health consequences. I also thought about other health choices that we all need to consider.

Marlboro Men were rugged cowboy types who appeared in ads smoking Marlboros. At least four of those who appeared as Marlboro Men died of smoking related diseases. Several relented of their association with Marlboro and became involved in anti-smoking campaigns. More information about them can be found on Google at “Marlboro Man” and “Death in the West”, a film about the ailments in Marlboro Men.

Critics may wonder why the Marlboro Men were not aware of the association between smoking and lung cancer. After all, since 1953 the UK had required warning labels on cigarettes sold there. And certainly by 1964 when the Surgeon General declared that smoking increased the risk of lung cancer, this should have ended the discussion. However, the majority of Americans did not really believe this for these reasons:

  • Hollywood was continually portraying smoking as glamorous. Why would they do this if it was harmful?
  • The Surgeon General appeared on TV in 1952 smoking and declared there was no connection between smoking and lung cancer (he was from Virginia).
  • Most physicians did not tell patients about the risks of smoking.
  • Athletes did not believe smoking caused health problems. In my athletic fraternity, all but distance runners and swimmers were expected to smoke.

So the Marlboro Men received conflicting information, and decided that the risk was not significant. Now all of us face health choices in which the evidence is not clear cut. With our rapid increase in technology, there are an increasing number of risks to consider. Here are a few:

  • Radioactivity: My son was conceived when I was taking a course in radioactivity and he was born with a double thumb. This could have been much worse.High energy particles from radioactivity shoot thru the body and shatter molecules into high energy fragments which recombine into strange chemicals. Since no family member ever was born with any double member, it is likely that radioactivity caused the problem. However my film badge readings showed no problems. (1-3)
  • Agricultural Chemicals: In my lifetime Rachael Carson developed information about the harm caused by DDT and other chemicals. Although the chemical industry vilified her, many of these were discontinued in the USA. The main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is associated (but not necessarily the cause) of serious illnesses and reduced life expectancy. We can avoid these by planting home gardens and buying organic foods. (4, 5)
  • Pharmaceutical Hazards: One of our managers was found unconscious and likely would have died if not found by a visitor. Prescription drugs are now the fifth leading cause of death in the USA. They may be needed at times, but should not be used without a good reason. (6-8)
  • Irradiated Foods: Irradiation causes a significant increase in free radicals which leads to cell injury and death. (9)
  • Food Chemicals: These are everywhere, but avoiding processed foods reduces your intake.  One example is a chemical- diacetyl (butter flavor) which may lead to Alzheimer’s disease and cell death. (10-12)
  • Caffeine: Caffeine is linked to small increases in blood pressure, loss of brain function, increased blood sugar levels, insomnia, and irregular heartbeat.(13-16)
  • Cured Meats: Meats like beef jerky normally contain nitrates which according to the World Cancer Research Foundation Panel cause co-rectal cancer.(17-19)

These are only a few of the many choices we all make every day.  The information available to us is not usually conclusive, and like the Marlboro Men before us, we will make choices that could be disastrous to us.  So how are we to decide?  We need to gather information or find someone to advise us. 

We cannot rely on expert advice any more than the Marlboro Men could. All the information listed above is on the NHRI website at At NHRI, we strive to publish only accurate and proven information.

Don’t dismiss possible threats to health that are life threatening. All threats listed above were considered insignificant at one time.

Hoping this will lead to better health for you.
Elwood Richard

Technical Editor
Natural Health Research Institute


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