'Addiction Incorporated' Director On Fighting 'Formidable' Big Tobacco

By Paul Gaita 03/16/16

The documentary tells the story of Big Tobacco's commitment to addicting the human brain and how the world found out about their plans.

'Addiction Incorporated' Director On Fighting 'Formidable' Big Tobacco
Photo via Addiction Incorporated

The 2011 documentary Addiction Incorporated, on DVD this week, examines the one-man fight waged by Dr. Victor DeNoble to reveal how the tobacco industry has suppressed the true addictive potential of cigarettes.

A former research scientist for Philip Morris, DeNoble was pressed to develop a cigarette that would pose fewer health risks to users but still retain its addictive properties. DeNoble and his colleagues eventually delivered what the company wanted—a nicotine-like substance called 2’methylnicotine, which provided a nicotine high without the elevated heart rate associated with the drug. 

But Philip Morris canceled the research and fired DeNoble, after he discovered that nicotine was addictive "on a level comparable to cocaine." He testified before a Senate subcommittee in 1994—two years before Jeffrey Wigand provided similar information to CBS, as depicted in the film The Insider—and refuted claims by CEOs from seven major tobacco companies that their product contributed to no significant health risks. That testimony, which is featured in the film, would eventually contribute to a nationwide change in policy and thinking regarding the use of tobacco, which ultimately coalesced into the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009. It also led to DeNoble’s current work as an educator on the tobacco industry and the science of drug addiction.  

Addiction Incorporated director, Charles Evans, Jr., saw DeNoble’s testimony and was immediately drawn to his efforts—in particular, his personal path from scientist to whistleblower. "His story was even more human and interesting than the historic drama that was unfolding around him,” Evans tells The Fix. DeNoble was the first member of his family to attend college—a feat made even more impressive by the fact that he was dyslexic—and believed, as Evans notes, that he could “make the world a better place through science.”

That belief helped him to not only attain a prime research position with a major company and make a significant scientific discovery, but also provided him with the moral core to take on that company when it sought to discredit his work. “Everyone likes to see young people achieve what they’ve set out to do,” Evans explains. “[In the film], you see [DeNoble]’s drive to do good and to persevere—you see him in action, and how good he is at that. At the end of the day, I’d like people to get in touch with the Victor in themselves.”

Evans also hopes that the film will continue to shed new light on what he calls “the darkness in the tobacco industry’s heart,” which has presented itself in recent years through the e-cigarette boom. “They are a formidable force that preys upon biological weakness—the propensity to be addicted to something—and profit from it,” he states. “They have brilliantly sidestepped the traditional concerns about smoking—the chemicals that pour into you from a combustible source—and streamlined it. The Food and Drug Administration is working on the science that will serve as the rule against vapor smoking or e-cigarettes, but they have a lot of work to do.”

Check out the trailer for Addiction Incorporated below:

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.