Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
These days, a character who smokes is self-destructive, a villain or a troubled high school student. "Addiction Incorporated" follows tobacco's journey downhill from respectability. After his long night's work, Santa used to relax with a Lucky on a back-cover ad in Life magazine, and Ronald Reagan liked to puff on Chesterfields. Now we learn of proposed new government health warnings that are more likely to make you spew than smoke your first cigarette.
The key player in this process was a man named Victor DeNoble, a scientist for Philip Morris, who began with the generally known fact that nicotine was addictive and discovered that a chemical named acetaldehyde made it more addictive. DeNoble was originally hired by Philip Morris to find a substitute for nicotine, in the attempt to develop a less addictive cigarette. (The tobacco industry's reasoning was: Dead smokers don't buy cigarettes.) When DeNoble reported his findings, Philip Morris switched signals and realized it could outsell their competitors by adding more acetaldehyde. At this time, the Tobacco Institute was making phony claims that there was no evidence cigarettes were addictive at all.
You may be assuming DeNoble is the same whistleblower played by Russell Crowe in "The Insider" (1999). No, that was Jeffrey Wigand, a scientist employed by Brown & Williamson. DeNoble's research was obtained by ABC News, whose corporate bosses vetoed its use. Wigand was leaking to "60 Minutes" on CBS, where network executives also were shy. There were a lot of cigarette ads on TV in those days, but more to the point, Big Tobacco had a reputation of suing for millions, and never losing a case.
The first half of this doc covers familiar territory; although everyone, even my parents who both died from smoking cigarettes, knew they were addictive, Big Tobacco had always denied it. Now DeNoble's research with laboratory rats proved it beyond a doubt. Rats who pushed a button got a rat-sized dose of nicotine. The first dose made them puke, but soon they were pushing the button 90 times a day. DeNoble was the most harmful witness imaginable to the industry, because he could testify that Philip Morris knew it and hoped to increase sales with its knowledge.