DeNoble: Tobacco industry chooses money over lives
By KRISTEN ALLEN
Victor DeNoble, a former researcher for Philip Morris and a key witness in the federal government's case against the tobacco industry, shared his findings Monday night.
DeNoble said he hoped his story would help students realize the importance of leadership and policy making.
Philip Morris, a tobacco company in Va., first approached DeNoble in 1979 when he was doing post-doctorate work at the University of Minnesota. According to DeNoble, the company had discovered that nicotine was killing 138,000 of their customers per year.
He explained that Phillip Morris began a secret project in 1970 to remove nicotine from cigarettes. By the time the company approached DeNoble in 1979, its researchers had accomplished that goal. But, DeNoble said, Philip Morris was afraid sales would drop if they removed nicotine from their cigarettes. DeNoble's job was to find a synthetic drug that would possess the same addictive qualities of nicotine without the carcinogenic side effects.
DeNoble's laboratory was on the third floor of Philip Morris.
"The third floor was where you stepped off the elevator and all the windows were painted black, all the doors had special passes, all the rats that came in for our experiments came in at four o'clock in the morning, and not more than 50 people in the whole world, 25 people in that building knew that [we] had a laboratory inside," he said.
In 1981, DeNoble found a molecule that had no cardiovascular complications. The company could make these nicotine-free cigarettes for about an extra five cents per pack. This change, however, would cost Philip Morris too much in the loss of sales for its other types of cigarettes, DeNoble said.
"They chose money over the lives of literally millions of Americans," he said.
DeNoble and his colleague, Paul Meles, were fired in April of 1984, soon after they brought their findings to the attention of the company. They were reminded of their life-long privacy agreement and sent on their way.
Before they left, DeNoble and Meles stole all the research they had done. This included files and slides they kept as evidence of their work at Philip Morris.
The pair contacted a lawyer in Richmond, Va., who convinced them that their files would be much safer with him. Two weeks later the lawyer called to say he'd been robbed.
The slides, however, were stored in DeNoble's basement, and DeNoble sent them to the Food and Drug Administration.
DeNoble's work was just beginning. The government needed him as a witness in their case against the tobacco industry.
"My wife and I were being held in a warehouse in Washington, D.C. We were kept at the warehouse for two weeks by members of the secret service and the FBI," he said. "They [the FBI] estimated that the potential for me to be killed, for these guys to find me before the time I testified, would be around 85 to 90 percent."
DeNoble went on to testify before Congress and the FDA. He has appeared on numerous television programs with his story, including 60 Minutes, Dateline and This Week with David Brinkley.
Audience members enjoyed DeNoble's presentation.
"I think he gave a compelling talk that really hit home for really anyone," said Alan Snell, chairman of the executive committee, Healthy Communities Initiative of St. Joseph County. "The American public has been kept in the dark. It's interesting to see how he exposed a lot of that."
Kathleen Kolberg, a psychology professor, said the lecture was scientifically informative and politically stimulating.
"I found it interesting how even though the science was completely backed up, the political system and the marketing system continued to manipulate consumers," she said.
Junior Meghan Rhatigan, a marketing major, said DeNoble's story was impressive.
"It was a great talk because the speaker was passionate about the topic," she said. "Obviously this was something that had a huge effect on his life and its something he wants to inform others about."
All News Stories for Tuesday, September 14, 1999