Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: My Personal Story and the Marlboro Men

Recently I have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a disease caused by exposure to asbestos. My only exposure was 60 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 such as lung cancer and emphysema. Several relented of their association with Marlboro and became involved in anti-smoking campaigns. More information about them can be found by googling “Marlboro Man” and “Death in the West” — a 1976 documentary 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?

❖ In 1952, the Surgeon General appeared on national television smoking and declared there was no connection between smoking and lung cancer; he was from Virginia, where tobacco was the most important cash crop at the time.

❖ 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. Today, we are still faced with health choices in which the evidence is not so clear cut. With our rapid increase in technology, there are an increasing number of risks to consider. Here are a few:

❖ Radioactivity: High energy particles from radioactivity shoot through the body and shatter molecules into high energy fragments which recombine into strange chemicals. My son was conceived when I was taking a course in radioactivity and was subsequently born with a double thumb; this could have been much worse. Since no family member had ever been born with a double extremity before, it is likely that radioactivity caused the condition. However, my film badge readings showed no problems. (1-3)

❖ Agricultural Chemicals: In my lifetime Rachel Carson developed information about the harm caused by DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and other chemicals. Although the chemical industry vilified her, many of these were discontinued in the U.S. The main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, glyphosate, is associated with — 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: My brother, Lou Richard, a health industry figure who once was head of the Standards Committee of NPA, was in the emergency room for two weeks after taking a prescription medication for Athlete’s Foot. Prescription drugs are now the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. 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 colorectal 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, Founder, NOW Foods


  1. Hardell, Carlberg. Mobile phones, cordless phones and the risk for tumours. Int J Oncol 2009; 35(July (1)):5–17
  2. Yoon-Hwan ByunMina Ha, , Ho-Jang KwonYun-Chul HongJong-Han LeemJoon SakongSu Young KimChul Gab Lee,8 Dongmug KangHyung-Do ChoiNam KimMobile phone use, blood lead levels, and attention deficit hyperactivity symptoms in children: a longitudinal study. PLOS ONE 2013; 8(3).
  3. Baan R, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V,Benbrahim-Tallaa L, et al. Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency electro-magnetic fields. Lancet Oncol 2011; 12(July (7)):624–6.
  4. Acquavella JF1, Alexander BHMandel JSGustin CBaker BChapman PBleeke M. Glyphosate biomonitoring for farmers and their families: results from the Farm Family Exposure Study. Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Mar; 112(3):321-6.
  5. Schecter A1, Colacino JHaffner DPatel KOpel MPäpke OBirnbaum L. Perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, and organochlorinepesticide contamination in composite food samples from Dallas, Texas, USA. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jun;118(6):796-802
  6. Cicero TJ1, Ellis MS1.Abuse-Deterrent Formulations and the Prescription Opioid Abuse Epidemic in the United States: Lessons Learned From OxyContin.JAMA Psychiatry. 2015 May; 72(5):424-30.
  7. Sutcliffe P, et al. Aspirin in primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: a systematic review of the balance of evidence from reviews of randomized trials. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 5; 8(12):e81970.
  8. MD Oswald Moling1, , , MD Elena Cairon2, MD Giovanni Rimenti1, MD Francesco Rizza3, MD Raffaele Pristerá1, MD Peter Mian1Severe hepatotoxicity after therapeutic doses of acetaminophen, Clinical Therapeutics May 2006 pages 755-760
  9. Stefanova R1Toshkov SVasilev NVVassilev NGMarekov IN. Effect of gamma-ray irradiation on the fatty acid profile of irradiated beef meat. Food Chem.2011 Jul 15;127(2):461-6
  10. Swati S. More , Ashish P. Vartak , and Robert Vince*The Butter Flavorant, Diacetyl, Exacerbates β-Amyloid Cytotoxicity, Chem. Res. Toxicol., 2012, 25(10), pp 2083–2091
  1. Kanarek Robin B, Artificial food dyes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutrition Reviews, 07/2011, Volume 69, Issue 7
  2. Soffritti M1Padovani MTibaldi EFalcioni LManservisi FBelpoggi F. The carcinogenic effects of aspartame: The urgent need for regulatory re-evaluation. Am J Ind Med.2014 Apr;57(4):383-97
  3. Luo H1Deng Z2,

elwood-richardAbout the Author: Trained as a chemist and expecting his career to be in the world of science, Elwood Richard’s life took an unexpected turn when he and his brothers inherited the family business, Fearn Soya Foods.

El had already established a successful health food store (now, fifty years later, a chain of 13 stores) and was trying to figure out ways to supply his store and other health retailers with food items that could compete in cost with grocery stores. NOW Foods was created to supply healthy foods and high quality supplements at prices NFP retailers and consumers could afford. This was primarily helpful to Elwood’s own store, but soon other health food stores saw the value in purchasing from NOW. Thus began the success story of NOW Foods, which El directed for many years as president and CEO.

Elwood has now officially “retired”, but he remains involved with NOW and the health food industry. He continues to stress value and quality at NOW, and promotes the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to all who will listen.

Elwood also co-founded the Natural Health Research Institute, a not-for-profit organization that promotes research and publishes science-based information about the benefits of natural foods and nutrients.

His latest project, just completed, is a book of healthy nursery rhymes for children called “Grandpa’s Rhymes for Healthy Times”. Copies are available through NOW Foods.

NOTE: The statements presented in this blog should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before adding a dietary supplement to (or removing one from) your daily regimen. WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific brand or product. The opinions expressed in bylined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.