FDL Movie Night: Addiction Incorporated

December 12, 2011

On June 22, 2009 President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act which allows the FDA to lower the amount of nicotine in tobacco products, ban candy flavorings that appeal to kids, and block misleading labels such “low tar” and “light.” The act was signed 20 years after groundbreaking Congressional hearings into tobacco companies’ manipulation of the brains and bodies of their customers.

Addiction Incorporated, directed by Charles Evans, Jr., methodically and dramatically lays the groundwork for the smoking gun–a research paper by scientists Victor DeNoble and Paul Mele which explains the addictive nature of nicotine, a paper whose research was funded by Philip Morris, a paper which the company ordered withdrawn from publication in a prestigious journal after it was made clear by the company’s attorneys that the data contained therein could provide litigants with evidence in pending lawsuits.

The central figure in Addiction Incorporated, Victor DeNoble, PhD, was the first person in his family to attend college, let alone get an advanced degree. While working as a post-doctorate lab researcher, DeNoble was hired by Philip Morris to develop a nicotine analogue that would deliver the pleasurable effects of nicotine without leading to heart disease. What he and fellow researcher Dr. Paul Mele discovered working with rats–a violation of an agreement made by tobacco companies years earlier that animal models were not to be used–was that nicotine was in fact addictive; and that the compound that made it so, acetaldehyde could be enhanced for “optimal reinforcing effect”.

Since acetaldehyde occurs naturally in tobacco, enhancing an already extant substance would not require FDA approval. Philip Morris was ecstatic. But at the same time DeNoble and Mele were submitting a paper for publication in the Journal of American Pharmapsychology on the addictive properties of nicotine based on the lab rats self-administration of nicotine doses (self-administration is the criteria the FDA used to determine if a drug should be scheduled as a controlled substance), high profile lawsuits against the tobacco companies were cropping up. Philip Morris ordered the paper pulled, and then fired the scientists.

Ten years later, in 1994 ABC News had finalized their story on the addictive properties of tobacco, and just days before the story was set to air, it was announced that the FDA was investigating the tobacco industry. Both Mele and DeNoble were approached by investigators. Spooked by the investigators, DeNoble declined to talk with them, but Mele did, and their paper was added to the congressional hearings on the tobacco industry. Called before Congress, the CEO and President of Philip Morris William Campbell released DeNoble from his confidentiality agreement with the company, and Pandora’s box was opened.

Addiction Incorporated reveals not only the corporate machinations of the tobacco industry to maximize profits, but also the behind-the-scenes manipulations of news and public opinion by Big Tobacco (applicable to other groups), and the corporate strategy of out-manning and out-spending the opposition in lawsuits.

And the film clearly makes the point that if smoking wasn’t addictive, people wouldn’t be doing it.

Addiction Incorporated opens December 14 in New York City, and in January comes to the West Coast.