Addiction, Incorporated (Variance Films, PG)

adicincAddiction, Incorporated feels more like a well-made educational documentary rather than something you’d care to see in a theater.



One of the great mysteries of life is why tobacco is not only a legal product in the United States, but one whose production is subsidized. It’s no secret that tobacco is harmful to your health (the CDC estimates that over 400,000 deaths annually in the U.S. can be attributed to the health effects of tobacco), nor that nicotine addiction is particularly tough to overcome, yet tobacco products are readily available across the country (the age at which tobacco purchase becomes legal varies by state), and we have subsidized tobacco growing by over $1 billion since 2000.

Be that as it may, you’d just about have to be living in a cave to not realize that smoking is bad for you. However, you may not realize just how it was demonstrated that cigarettes are addictive, and that is the story told in Addiction, Incorporated. The central character is a behavioral scientist named Victor DeNoble who worked on a project at Phillip Morris the stated purpose of which was to develop a safer substitute for nicotine, one that was addictive but did not harm the human heart (dead people don’t buy cigarettes, after all). What DeNoble instead discovered, in the early 1980s, was that not only was nicotine addictive, so was another chemical in cigarette smoke, acetaldehyde. Even better (from the point of view of a cigarette manufacturer), when the two chemicals are combined, they amplify each other’s effects. This gave the tobacco executives a new goal: to find the optimal ratio of acetaldehyde to nicotine to have the “optimal reinforcing effect.” In other words, to create a “maximally addictive cigarette,” as DeNoble puts it.

The timing of this discovery coincided with anti-tobacco lawsuits in several states, and naturally Phillip Morris did not want to be seen as producing a product which was little more than a delivery system for an addictive drug (they preferred to advertise cigarettes as a lifestyle choice for adults). DeNoble was prohibited from presenting or publishing his results, and then they fired him and closed his lab. Although contractually prohibited from disclosing his results, DeNoble testified before Congress in 1994, making fools out of all those tobacco executives who swore under oath that their product was not addictive. These hearings played a key role in the eventual federal decision to regulate tobacco.

Unfortunately, this is very old news, and despite director Charles Evans, Jr.’s attempts to spice up the story with cute animations, folksy music, and some rather arch reenactments, Addiction, Incorporated feels more like a well-made educational documentary rather than something you’d care to see in a theater. It would be great to show in high school science and social studies classes, but the slow pace and procession of talking heads doesn’t make for the most exciting evening at the movies.

This film’s saving grace is the charismatic presence of DeNoble, whose life story is the embodiment of the American Dream. Born to a working-class family in Queens, New York, and unsuccessful in school until his dyslexia was discovered, DeNoble eventually earned a doctorate and enjoy a successful research career. After being fired from Philip Morris, he went on to work for several other companies and today works as an anti-tobacco educator. | Sarah Boslaugh

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