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January 28th, 2012:

Philip Morris couldn’t snuff out Victor DeNoble ‘Addiction Incorporated’

New documentary lights up addiction scientist’s story

By Peter Rowe

Originally published January 25, 2012 at 6 p.m., updated January 26, 2012 at 6 p.m.


Philip Morris fired cigarette researcher Victor DeNoble, but that wasn’t enough.

His lab was closed, his lab rats killed, his studies buried. Company lawyers forced him to sign a lifetime nondisclosure statement. His work on nicotine addiction was so dangerous, Philip Morris wanted to erase every trace of DeNoble.

How’s that going, Phil?

DeNoble, 62, has become one of the nation’s most prominent anti-smoking campaigners. The San Diego resident travels constantly, speaks to 350,000 students a year — delivers up to four talks a day — and tangles with the tobacco industry in legislative chambers and courtrooms. Now the star of “Addiction Incorporated,” a new documentary that opens here Friday, he is hailed as a whistle-blower whose testimony made possible the $206 billion settlement U.S. tobacco companies approved in 1998.

He has the brains of a Bill Gates and, to hear some critics, the on-screen charisma of a Brad Pitt. DeNoble “reveals himself to be a born raconteur,” The New York Times’ Jeannette Catsoulis wrote. “His easygoing, self-deprecating narration is the film’s most valuable asset and the viewer’s best friend.”

Not bad for someone who was supposed to be a nonperson. But DeNoble’s story is a curious one, full of odd turns and a bizarre quest. The key chapter begins in 1980, when he was hired by Philip Morris — the parent corporation of Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Benson & Hedges and many other brands — to research “safer” cigarettes. In 1983, he succeeded.

And sealed his fate.

Proof negative

Growing up on Long Island, N.Y., Victor struggled to read and comprehend his school lessons. No scholar, he assumed he would follow in his father’s footsteps as a plumber. Dad, though, insisted that Victor apply for college.

“Why?” the teenager asked.

“To meet smart women, stupid.”

At Adelphi University, Victor met women and made another, non-hormone-related, discovery. He wasn’t dumb; he was dyslexic. To his eyes, printed words appeared backward. Victor relearned to read — and his grades soared. Studying drug addiction, he earned a bachelor’s degree and then a doctorate.

Recruited by Philip Morris, the young Ph.D naively accepted assurances that the tobacco giant wanted good science and good works. “In 1979,” he noted, “smoking had no stigma. You could smoke anywhere. They came to me and said, ‘We are killing a whole bunch of people. Can you help us save some people?’”

Every year, DeNoble was informed, 138,000 smokers die from nicotine-induced heart attacks and brain strokes. What if Philip Morris could market a cigarette that caused no cardiovascular damage?

Experimenting with rats in the corporation’s labs, DeNoble found a nicotine substitute, 2 prime methyl-nicotine. It didn’t damage the heart — yet was equally addictive.

The news thrilled DeNoble’s bosses, until they realized that cigarettes with chemical additives would be scrutinized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Damn it,” DeNoble was told, “you’ve made us into a pharmaceutical company.”

His research, though, was proof positive that nicotine addicted. With his supervisors’ permission, DeNoble and two co-authors submitted their findings to a professional publication. It was scheduled for the Journal of Psychopharmacology’s September 1983 issue when DeNoble was forced to withdraw the paper. In the view of Philip Morris’ lawyers, the scientists’ proof positive was a legal proof negative, damning evidence that cigarettes were drugs.

Still, DeNoble won promotions and more funds for his lab. When he and a colleague, Paul Mele, were summoned to see their boss on April 5, 1984, he expected good news.

Instead, they were fired and muzzled. To receive a severance package, they were forced to agree to never discuss their work.

#1 whistle-blower

In 1994, a decade after DeNoble’s firing, he was contacted by federal investigators. FDA Chairman David Kessler, about to appear before a congressional committee investigating tobacco’s health effects, needed experts to brief him. Could DeNoble help?

Citing the nondisclosure agreement, DeNoble declined.

That wasn’t good enough. In one of the most dramatic scenes of “Addiction Incorporated,” Los Angeles congressman Henry Waxman presses the CEO of Philip Morris to release DeNoble from this agreement. After numerous evasions, the tobacco executive finally agrees.

Two weeks later, DeNoble testified that nicotine is addictive; that Philip Morris knew this; and that the corporation — and, no doubt, its competitors — sought ways to heighten this effect.

This is all common knowledge — now. Then? “Victor De Noble was the first whistle-blower,” Waxman said in the documentary. “I know a lot of people have talked about other whistle-blowers. But he was the first one.”

As “Addiction Incorporated” notes, DeNoble became a key ally of the states attorneys general who sued the tobacco companies, eventually winning that landmark $209 billion settlement. Despite this payout, big tobacco is bigger than ever — Philip Morris, for instance, has seen its stock price climb 51 percent in the last five years.

Will “Addiction Incorporated” further tarnish these corporations?

Philip Morris did not address questions about DeNoble and his research but a company spokesman did comment on the movie.

“This film covers topics regarding smoking that have been in the public domain for some time,” David Sutton, a Philip Morris USA spokesman, said via email Thursday. “PM USA agrees with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking is addictive and causes serious diseases in smokers.”

“Addiction Incorporated” concludes with President Obama signing a 2009 law expanding the FDA’s oversight to include cigarettes. “PM USA stood alone among the major cigarette manufacturers in support of FDA regulation over cigarettes,” Sutton noted, “and believes that this regulation can provide significant benefits to tobacco manufacturers and adult tobacco consumers.”

That’s not enough, DeNoble argues. The movie shows him running on the trails near the Santa Luz home he shares with his wife, Kimi DeNoble, but those jogs are rare occasions. That was a rare occasion. More often, he’s running to airports or classrooms, preparing to talk to students about science, nicotine and rats — both four- and two-legged varieties.

How could he ever believe that a tobacco company would want a safer cancer stick?

He smiled. These days, his close cropped hair is graying and his face has acquired a few wrinkles. But there’s still something fresh and idealistic about that smile.

“I was young,” he said, “and I was wrong.”

© Copyright 2012 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.

The Associated Press Altria 4Q profit falls 9 pct, CEO to retire

By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, AP Tobacco Writer – 15 hours ago

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. said Friday that its fourth-quarter profit fell about 9 percent on lease, legal and restructuring charges even as higher prices and gains from its smokeless tobacco products helped bolster its sales.

The owner of the nation’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, also announced that CEO Michael E. Szymanczyk will retire in May following the company’s annual shareholder meeting. Altria’s board has selected Martin J. Barrington to replace him as CEO and chairman, and David R. Beran will serve as president and chief operating officer.

The company also disclosed that it has entered into an agreement with an affiliate of Fertin Pharma A/S to developnon-combustible nicotine-containing products. Several other tobacco companies have announced similar initiatives to seek cigarette alternatives as demand declines.

“Altria continues to focus on lower-risk products that appeal to adult tobacco consumers,” Szymanczyk said in a conference call with investors.

Richmond, Va.-based Altria reported net income of $836 million, or 41 cents per share, for the three-month period ended Dec. 31, down from $919 million, or 44 cents a share, last year. On an adjusted basis, the company earned 50 cents per share, a penny above Wall Street expectations.

Revenue, excluding excise taxes, increased 5 percent to $4.34 billion. Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting $4.23 billion.

Its shares fell 52 cents to close at $28.14 Friday. Its shares have recovered from a 52-week low of $23.20 in early August and are 7.4 percent below their high for the past year of $30.40 set in mid-December.

Cigarettes volumes were flat at 33.7 billion cigarettes compared with a year ago as an increase of nearly 20 percent in its discount cigarette brands offset declines in its premium brands like Marlboro. Cigarette revenue excluding excise taxes rose 4 percent to $3.63 billion during the quarter on higher prices.

Altria said its top-selling Marlboro brand lost 0.7 points of market share to end up with 41.6 percent of the U.S. market. Marlboro volumes declined less than 1 percent. Its other brands, including Virginia Slims, Parliament and Basic, also lost market share.

The company has introduced several new products with the Marlboro brand, often with lower promotional pricing. They include special blends of both menthol and non-menthol cigarettes to try to keep the brand growing and steal smokers from its competitors.

Altria still faces pressure in the current economy from less-expensive brands such as like Pall Mall from Reynolds American Inc. and Maverick from Lorillard Inc. Marlboro sold for an average of $5.73 per pack during the fourth quarter, compared with an average of $4.24 per pack for the cheapest brand.

Despite changes in market share driven by short-term increases in promotional activity, “Marlboro’s underlying brand equity remains strong,” Szymanczyk said.

Like other tobacco companies, Altria is focusing on cigarette alternatives — such as cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco — for future sales growth because the decline in cigarette smoking is expected to continue.

Volumes of its smokeless tobacco brands such as Copenhagen and Skoal increased about 10 percent. Excluding excise taxes, revenue from its smokeless tobacco business grew nearly 7 percent to $391 million on higher prices.

For the quarter, the company’s smokeless tobacco brands had 55.5 percent of the market, which is tiny compared with cigarettes.

Volume for its Black & Mild cigars fell about 6 percent during the period. But revenue excluding excise taxes rose 26 percent to $90 million as it raised prices and spent less money promoting the brand.

Altria also owns a wine business and holds a voting stake in brewer SABMiller.

Altria has been forced to cut costs as tax hikes, smoking bans, health concerns and social stigma make the cigarette business tougher. During the third quarter, the company said it completed a multi-year cost savings program, exceeding its goal of reducing costs by $1.5 billion between 2007 and 2011 compared with 2006.

Last quarter the company rolled out a plan to cut $400 million in “cigarette-related infrastructure costs” by the end of 2013 in advance of anticipated cigarette volume declines. Altria said the restructuring charges in connection with the program totaled 7 cents per share in the fourth quarter.

For the full year, the company said it earned $3.39 billion, or $1.64 per share, in 2011 compared with $3.9 billion, or $1.87 per share, in the previous year. It said its adjusted earnings for the year were $2.05 per share.

Cigarette volumes for the year fell about 4 percent to 135.1 billion cigarettes, largely on declines from Altria’s premium brands. Marlboro ended the year with a 42 percent share of the U.S. retail market, down 0.6 points from a year ago. Overall the company lost 0.8 points of market share to end up with 49 percent of the retail market.

Full-year smokeless tobacco volumes increased more than 1 percent to 734.6 million cans or packs, and cigar volumes were stable at 1.25 billion units.

Altria also said it forecast 2012 full-year adjusted earnings between $2.17 and $2.23 per share.

Michael Felberbaum can be reached at

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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FILE – In this May 28, 2008 file photo provided by Altria Group Inc., Michael E. Szymanczyk, chairman and chief executive officer of Altria Group Inc., speaks at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, in Richmond, Va. Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. said Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, its fourth-quarter profit fell about 9 percent on lease and restructuring charges. The owner of America’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, also said Szymanczyk will retire in May following the company’s annual shareholder meeting. (AP Photo/Altria Group, File)

Shop loses licence over illegal tobacco

10:00am Saturday 28th January 2012 in News By David Wiles

Description: Tatras newsagents

AN OFF-LICENCE and newsagent which sold UK duty-free and counterfeit tobacco had its licence revoked by Swindon Council’s licensing committee yesterday.

Tatras, in Victoria Road, Town Centre, was found to have the cigarettes and loose tobacco hidden in a cupboard and below confectionery on shelving.

Trading Standards officers also seized £1,500 in cash in a paper bag under the counter, which they claim was linked to the sale of illegal products.

Yesterday the licensing committee followed a recommendation to revoke the shop’s licence, meaning it will no longer be able to sell alcohol.

The decision will take effect in 21 days, providing the premises licence holder, Shorish Hamid Mustafa, does not first appeal to magistrates, in which case there will be no change until the outcome of the case.

Russell Sharland, of Trading Standards, said: “The licensing objective of preventing crime and disorder has been deliberately breached over an extended period.

“This is aggravated by the sale of counterfeit product, rather than simply smuggled product, where there can be serious public health consequences.

“Mr Mustafa ignored previous advice and guidance and chose to lie to officers both at the time of the inspection and during the interview under caution.”

Mr Sharland said Trading Standards obtained evidence on September 11, September 18, September 25 and October 2 that Tatras had sold foreign-labelled, non-UK duty paid cigarettes.

In an interview, Mr Mustafa said acquaintances had tried to persuade him for some time to sell illegal tobacco, but he had only decided to do so in the week before the inspection.

He estimated that, overall, he had sold about £40 to £60 worth of illegal tobacco a day, charging as an example, £4 to £4.50 for 20 Marlboro cigarettes, instead of the genuine price of £7.19.

He said the bag of cash was from normal shop takings and would be spent at the cash and carry.

Mr Mustafa said: “I did a big mistake and I’m sorry.”

Mr Mustafa said all his accounts were legitimate, adding that although he paid his staff cash, his accountant sorted out the appropriate tax and VAT.

Coun Vera Tomlinson, chairman of the licensing panel, said the panel agreed there was evidence of the illegal sale of tobacco and poor management practices.

Yunnan’s tobacco boom

The Economist

Poisonous gift

In China’s south-west, a smoker’s paradise

Jan 28th 2012 | YUXI | from the print edition

omes with few warnings

IN 1643 Fang Yizhi, a Chinese scholar, wrote that smoking tobacco for too long would “blacken the lungs” and lead to death. The then-emperor, Chongzhen, didn’t bother with warning labels. He outlawed growing and smoking the leaf. Violators were to be beheaded. (As it happens, a year later, the Ming dynasty and Chongzhen were both dead, neither from blackened lungs.)

Attitudes to smoking have changed somewhat since then. Today a carton of smokes is one of the most popular gifts in China, especially at the Chinese new year. In tobacco-rich Yunnan, the cigarette industry is a local pillar. Many advances over the centuries have taken place in the processing, packaging and marketing of tobacco. Top-end brands can sell for $25 a packet (and some are proudly labelled “organic”). On health warnings however, progress has been slight: packets bear a simple, generic message printed in text, with no eye-catching images.

That is because the cigarette-makers want it that way. China’s tobacco industry is both owned and regulated by the government. It makes and sells more than two-fifths of the world’s cigarettes—2.4 trillion in 2011, 3% more than in 2010. The government says the industry took in profits and tax receipts of 753 billion yuan ($119 billion) in 2011, an annual increase of over a fifth. Production, sales and tax receipts are likely to increase for years to come.

As a signatory to a World Health Organisation tobacco-control treaty, China is, rather awkwardly in the face of these projections, meant to reduce smoking. The country has more than 300m smokers, close to a third of the global total. Cigarettes are still the currency of masculinity, especially in rural China, and more than half of Chinese men smoke. About 1m Chinese die each year from smoking-related illnesses.

More explicit warning labels would help. The government is mandating a larger font size on its labels from April 1st, and is pondering whether to make the labels more dramatic, using gruesome images. However, the cigarette-makers are powerful, and the Ministry of Health is not. “If you really were to use disgusting images, that would hurt the function of cigarettes as a gift,” says He Youfei of Hongta, one tobacco group, sitting in the company’s canteen (smoking permitted).

Hongta, or Red Pagoda, is China’s largest cigarette-maker by retail sales, and the fifth-largest in the world, selling more than 270 billion cigarettes a year. If Hongta is the Philip Morris of China, then Yuxi is its Richmond, Virginia (see map). The city, with a population of more than 2m, has a Hongta Hotel and a Hongta golf course. The company sponsors more than a dozen primary schools in the region, each called “Hongta Hope” (there are also “Tobacco Hope” schools elsewhere). A tobacco museum in Yuxi boasts pictures of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping leading the revolution with cigarettes in the vanguard, along with testimonials to smoking’s good effects (Mao lived to 82, Deng to 92).

It was a Western imperialist firm, British American Tobacco, that created China’s modern tobacco industry in the early 20th century, but Mao nationalised the industry after seizing power in 1949. People’s Liberation Army soldiers were issued cigarettes, and families were given tobacco vouchers. In the public consciousness, the cigarette still remains closely tied to the state. One of the most popular brands is named Zhongnanhai, after the forbidden compound in Beijing where the country’s leaders reside. The cigarettes were favoured by Chairman Mao himself.

“The industry and the government are one family,” says Li Xiaoliang of Pioneers for Health Consultancy Centre, an anti- tobacco NGO in Kunming, Yunnan’s capital. That makes her task rather delicate. She thinks that the country needs one of its leaders to come out against smoking. For Ms Li, there is a risk in her work. “If we’re against the industry, it seems that we’re against the government.”

from the print edition | China