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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Jan. 12, 2012 | 4:48 PM

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The attitude of Americans towards smoking has changed drastically over the past twenty years.  It wasn’t so long ago that all restaurants had a smoking section, and if you went to a bar, a cloud of smoke was a given.  In 2012 it’s barely legal to smoke on the sidewalk in most major American cities, and much of that is due to the legal battles outlined in Charles Evans’ new documentary, Addiction Incorporated.  If there are portions of the film that feel like old news, that’s merely a testament to the progress that’s been made in getting the big tobacco companies to admit the dangers of their product.

The primary focus of Evans’ film is Victor DeNoble, a young post graduate student who took a lucrative job with Phillip Morris in the early eighties.  DeNoble’s primary assignment was to study Nicotine, both in order to determine its addictive properties, and to research whether it was possible to produce a safer cigarette.  In quiet violation of the company’s official policy against research on live animals, DeNoble set up a lab with rats as his subjects.  What he found was big news at the time.  Nicotine was extremely addictive, and was made even more so when combined with acetaldehyde, a chemical present in cigarette smoke.  Reluctantly, the company agreed to allow DeNoble to publish his findings in a prominent medical journal.  An abstract was sent, but the article never went to press as Philip Morris reversed course.  Not only would the article not be published, but DeNoble and his work were terminated from the company.

DeNoble is an intriguing subject, and the film is at its best when he’s onscreen, though we never learn much about his personal life outside of work.  Following his departure from Phillip Morris, DeNoble spent much of the 90’s as an expert witness.  Beginning by testifying against Big Tobacco in Senate subcomittee hearings, he later worked with a team of New Orleans lawyers in assembling a massive class action lawsuit against them.  But DeNoble refuses to be a pawn for any particular agenda.  Trotted out before the press without warning following a meeting with then Vice President Al Gore, he disdains a settlement agreement he’d obviously been expected to praise.  Finally tiring of talking to jurors, the end of the film finds DeNoble taking his expertise to kids in schools around the country.

ADDICTION INCORPORATED does an effective job of illustrating the timeline of Big Tobacco’s unraveling over the past two decades, but ultimately offers few new revelations.  As a film, it’s mostly a combination of old C-SPAN footage and talking head interviews with lawyers, journalists, and government workers.  The main problem is that the subject matter, while significant, has already been covered in great detail.  In the end, the movie solidly reinforces what most of us have known for some time.  Turns out cigarettes are bad for you.

ADDICTION INCORPORATED opens at Landmark’s NuArt Theatre in West Los Angeles on Friday, January 13th.

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