Most people know that tobacco causes a variety of health problems and that nicotine, the addictive chemical found in cigarettes, is at the root of many of these health problems. However, this wasn’t always public knowledge. Researchers were hired by tobacco companies to study nicotine and its effects but weren’t allowed to publish their findings.
Earlier this month, two members of our tobacco team attended a presentation by Dr. Victor DeNoble, titled “Inside the Darkside”, which gives an insider’s view into Big Tobacco’s suppression of research regarding nicotine addiction.
In 1980, Dr. Victor DeNoble was recruited by the Philip Morris Research Center (now known as Altria, the maker of Marlboro and Virginia Slims) to build a secret research lab. He was tasked with developing a cigarette that didn’t cause heart attacks but kept users addicted.
Dr. DeNoble experimented with rats and successfully identified a nicotine substitute that did not elevate the heart rate of these animal models, but later discovered that there are dozens of other chemicals in tobacco that cause heart attacks, so it was a moot point. His research proved that nicotine is addictive and builds tolerance, which would give the FDA jurisdiction to regulate it. So he tried to publish his findings.
His attempts were suppressed by Philip Morris. He was fired. His laboratory was seized. Before leaving in 1984, he and his partner smuggled their research out of the lab. For ten years, Dr. DeNoble was silenced by a secrecy agreement until seven CEOs from major tobacco companies testified under oath before Congress that nicotine was not addictive. The FBI had Dr. DeNoble in protective custody, and he had proof that these CEOs were lying. A federal judge ordered Dr. DeNoble to tell the truth, which superseded his gag order, allowing him to finally legally expose them with legal protection.
He was the first whistleblower to testify before Congress about his research conducted within the tobacco industry. His congressional testimony was the cornerstone for huge changes in the industry. The Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 forbids cigarette manufacturers from directly or indirectly targeting youth, and imposes significant restrictions on advertising. His testimony also led to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The tobacco industry has paid billions of dollars to states for healthcare costs and other damages.
Tobacco Free Florida and the AHEC Cessation Program are funded by these ongoing payments from the Master Settlement Agreement. Dr. DeNoble’s research and testimony have helped improve our nation’s health through widespread knowledge about the dangers of nicotine and funding for programs like ours that help people quit tobacco for good.
If you are interested in attending a tobacco cessation group or bringing one to your workplace, find more information over at srahec.org/tobacco.
“Inside the Darkside” Presentation by Dr. Victor DeNoble. June 8, 2018