Scientists studying a group of men who worked in a cigarette filter factory have documented what is believed to be the highest death rate from disease associated with asbestos exposure, a report released Tuesday says.

Dr. James Talcott of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues found about 70 percent of the deaths among 35 men who worked in an asbestos-containing cigarette filter factory were from asbestos-related diseases.The highest death rate from asbestos-related disease previously documented was about a 30 percent rate found among workers who assembled military gas masks in England and Canada, Talcott said.

Asbestos is no longer used to make cigarette filters. But the findings indicate that people who worked in factories where asbestos-containing cigarette filters were made should be encouraged to quit smoking to minimize their already high risk for lung cancer, Talcott said. They should also be screened to try to detect asbestos-related disease at its earliest, most treatable stages, Talcott said.