Scientist Victor DeNoble to talk about tobacco industry's suppression of addiction research

While working as a postdoctoral fellow doing addiction research in 1980, a young scientist was recruited by the research arm of tobacco company Philip Morris USA to build a secret lab and develop a cigarette that would eliminate or reduce cardiovascular risk in smokers. Reportedly, the scientists at Philip Morris had invented the molecules but had no way to test them. This is where the new recruit, Victor DeNoble, PhD, came in — at that time one of a handful of scientists in the world with experience in an emerging field that involved complicated animal surgery.

“Here’s the tobacco industry coming to a young scientist and saying, ‘Listen. We’re killing a lot of people, and we don’t want to kill people. Can you help us?’ To me, that was a dream job,” DeNoble says today.

After successfully identifying a nicotine substitute that did not elevate the heart rate in animal models, DeNoble, with permission from his supervisors, submitted his work for publication in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Soon after, it all began to unravel. DeNoble was forced to withdraw his paper, was fired from Philip Morris and his laboratory and data seized.

A secrecy agreement silenced DeNoble for 10 years, but in 1994 he was released to testify before Congress about the research he conducted at the Philip Morris Tobacco Research Center — research that showed nicotine has addictive properties similar to other drugs of addiction. His testimony led to the Master Settlement Agreement between four major tobacco companies and the attorneys general of 46 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, requiring the companies to make payments over 25 years to reimburse the excess costs of treating smoking-related illnesses under Medicaid programs. The testimony also ushered in substantial changes in public policy culminating in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act signed in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

Now widely recognized as the first Big Tobacco whistleblower, DeNoble, who has postdoctoral fellowships from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Brooklyn and the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the University of Minnesota, will bring this story, with all of the details filled in, to CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry this May in Anaheim.

DeNoble will use his own experience at the research center as a backdrop to skillfully combine the science, history and biology of nicotine addiction — all while providing an insider’s view into the tobacco industry's suppression of nicotine addiction research. In fact, many of the slides DeNoble will show as part of his presentation are original photographs he took during his time in the laboratory he built for Philip Morris. Attendees will see photos of the actual lab, the rats and the equipment, which DeNoble says nearly always elicit some surprise from the audience.

“Viewers have asked ‘what was that?’ speaking of that thing that stood 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide with miles of wire on it. That was a chip. We had to build our own computers back then,” says DeNoble, who maintains a rigorous speaking schedule, presenting anywhere from a minimum of three times weekly to three times a day.

Mark Romanelli, DDS, chair of the CDA Presents Board of Managers, says, “We’re really excited to include this presentation in the spring convention program. Risking his life and that of his family, DeNoble’s expert court testimony against the tobacco industry was key to shedding light on the psychological, physical, addictive and social effects of tobacco use.” 

Aside from learning about the manipulation of DeNoble’s research, attendees will leave the lecture with an understanding of the neurobiology of drug addiction, the neuroanatomical changes produced by addictive drugs and the receptor changes induced by addictive drugs.

“We’ll talk about e-cigarettes and hookahs, and I’ll share anecdotes from my work with fourth-graders,” says DeNoble. “I’ll show you a list of 60 or 70 chemicals — many of which cause cancer — that are produced just by heating up water.”

While DeNoble’s presentation speaks specifically to the addictive nature of nicotine and other tobacco-related chemicals, the epidemic of opioid addiction as well as addiction to other pharmaceuticals has changed the way dentists prescribe in their own practices.  

“We in the dental profession must avoid becoming complacent regarding the oral and general health effects associated with tobacco use, nicotine addiction and other addictive substances,” Romanelli says. “As e-cigarettes come into widespread use and ‘acceptance,’ what health risks are we exposing ourselves to? Are we trading one addiction for another? Dr. DeNoble’s presentation will raise or rekindle our awareness of tobacco-related medical and dental conditions.”

Romanelli also adds that bringing DeNoble’s story to Anaheim is one example of how CDA Presents is listening to attendees who have asked for something new and exciting at the convention.

“This may be the one lecture dentists and their staff can sit back in and not have to take notes,” DeNoble says. “They can just enjoy the story.”

Inside the Darkside takes place from 10:30 a.m. to noon, Thursday, May 17, and is open to the entire dental team. Read more about DeNoble and register for the Anaheim convention.

Related Items

Significant changes have occurred over the last 10 years in advertising and internet marketing, which means dental practices must adjust their strategies to reach potential patients. This May at CDA Presents Anaheim, author and international speaker Rita Zamora will lead two lectures designed to help dentists or their staff market their practice effectively through social media — no matter their current knowledge or skill level.