The fascinating first hand story of the scientist who exposed tobacco companies as drug pushers.
Emerging director Charles Evans, Jr. started something big when he conceived of this documentary expose about the drug delivery side of the tobacco industry. Evans (part of the production team for the smash hit “The Aviator”) teamed up with drug scientist Victor DeNoble for 15 years to produce a powerful film about the intentional addiction of Americans by cigarette manufacturers.
The irony of the situation is that DeNoble’s research started with an attempt to isolate the addictive part of tobacco so that the industry could separate it from the cancer-causing part of the tobacco. Thereby creating a safer cigarette.
The idea was to keep smokers healthy so they could smoke more, and more often. Like many strokes of genius, DeNoble inadvertently unlocked the key to the addictive qualities of cigarettes, which turned out to be dependent on more than just nicotine.
Scrolling down to the present day, DeNoble’s scathing congressional testimony called all of the major tobacco companies on the carpet. The result was the passage of the earth-shaking Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
The act allows drastic control over misleading cigarette labeling. Even more amazing is the power to control nicotine as a hazardous substance, to the point of reducing its content in smoking products to near zero.
DeNoble was a young, eager scientist hard at work for Philip Morris Research Center when PM made him an offer he could not refuse. The nearly starving post-doctoral fellow was offered the chance to move out of his makeshift digs into a brand spanking new Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory.
His lab was the state-of-the-art. Amongst all the other labs in the building, the BPL lab was unique. Its windows were blocked. There was no way for anybody outside to see what was going on, inside.
He did his pioneering work into the addictive substances and induction mechanisms associated with using tobacco. His work in trying to create a safer cigarette actually resulted in making Marlboros more addictive than before. Using modern biological and psychological research on brigades of lab rats, DeNoble unlocked the key to “intraventricularly administered nicotine” behavioral change. In street lingo, how you get hooked.
It was not just nicotine, it was nicotine is just the right combination with acetaldehyde. In 1982, DeNoble gave his presentation to the PM bigwigs and blew the top off the industry. He knew the magic formula. By 1984, the cat is out of the bag and DeNoble is out on his ear, no longer a prestigious peer within the tobacco industry.
In 1994, DeNoble completed a series of Herculean steps required to release him from his confidentiality agreement with Philip Morris. One can imagine they did not give up easily. This film documents the testimony every step of the way.
A parade of rocket scientists are interviewed who seem to know every aspects of every component in the seemingly simple cigarette. These PhDs are not crusading on the old soapbox of cigarettes causing cancer.
They are piling weight on the scale that proves that corporate America, Big Tobacco, conducting a scientific, methodical and completely legal campaign to become the biggest drug pushers in the world. Even better, they did it with US government subsidies. They did it with the taxpayer’s money of the people they were sworn to lock into tobacco addiction.
Lawyer Russ Herman tells the story of the biggest class action suit in the history of the world at that time. In 2004, he won a $591 million settlement in Scott v. American Tobacco. Other interviews with lawmakers, news reporters, legal educators.
In the end, these heroes have gone back to their normal lives, more or less. Except the truly dedicated scientists have abandoned the drug dealing in favor of high school outreach to students, in the hope they will not repeat the mistakes of their parents.
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Produced and Directed by: Charles Evans Jr.
Featuring: Danny Abel, Phil Barnett and Herbert Barry III
Release Date: December 14, 2011
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for brief language
Running Time: 102 Minutes