The Columbus Dispatch : Likable crusader sends up smoke signals

February 10, 2012

One might assume that Victor DeNoble, the tobacco-industry whistle-blower at the center of the documentary Addiction Incorporated, is the guy who inspired the 1999 film The Insider.

The storylines are almost identical: A cigarette company insider discovers that the product his employer makes is dangerously addictive, and his attempts to let the world know are met with cover-ups and corporate pressure on the media to suppress the story.

But they’re not the same person. The Insider was the story of Jeffrey Wigand of Brown & Williamson. DeNoble worked for Philip Morris.

What’s more, DeNoble is nothing like Russell Crowe’s tortured character in the 1999 film. He’s likable, funny and a natural storyteller. He acts, in essence, as a tour guide through a tale that’s tangled by scientific data, jargon and legal maneuvering.

DeNoble, an experimental psychologist tasked in the early 1980s with finding out whether cigarettes could be made safer without losing smokability, comes across like the college lecturer whose class everyone wants to take, larding his recitation of facts and figures with black humor: “ Dead people don’t buy cigarettes,” he notes in a succinct assessment of Philip Morris executives’ thinking in regard to the dilemma posed by a product that hooks — and then kills — its customers.

That said, there’s a bit of a been-there-done-that air to Addiction Incorporated. That’s partly due to the high profile of The Insider, but it’s also, ironically, thanks in large part to DeNoble’s own efforts to educate people.

Since leaving Philip Morris — from which he was fired in 1984 — DeNoble has fashioned a second career, giving talks to 300,000 schoolchildren a year about the dangers of smoking.

The irony, the film suggests, is that his crusade is paid for with money that the tobacco companies had to cough up in a settlement.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch