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Tobacco whistleblower details dangers of drug addiction

 

Victor DeNoble

Victor DeNoble

 

Julius Kato

Julius Kato

 

Angela Riley

Angela Riley

 

Gaurav Dutta speaks in Bettersworth Auditorium at Mississippi State University Saturday for Community Counseling Service's Bloom Where You Are Planted conference for addiction and substance abuse awareness. Dutta explained the impact of tobacco products on the lungs and pulmonary systems.

Gaurav Dutta speaks in Bettersworth Auditorium at Mississippi State University Saturday for Community Counseling Service's Bloom Where You Are Planted conference for addiction and substance abuse awareness. Dutta explained the impact of tobacco products on the lungs and pulmonary systems.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Arleen Weatherby

Arleen Weatherby

 

 

Mary Pollitz

 

 

In 1994, Victor DeNoble anonymously mailed a photo of a lab-tested rat to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, becoming the first whistleblower against the tobacco industry.  

 

That was what he told the audience of more than 100 gathered in the Bettersworth Auditorium at Mississippi State University Saturday for Community Counseling Service's Bloom Where You Are Planted conference for addiction and substance abuse awareness.  

 

DeNoble's presentation focused on the health side-effects of tobacco and nicotine he discovered while an employee of the tobacco company, Phillip Morris International. Originally, he was working to discover a man-made version of nicotine, which could be added to tobacco products, to reduce cardiovascular disease while still remaining addictive. 

 

During his studies, DeNoble tested lab rats and the effects of addiction on their brain, he said. He proved nicotine pumps through the blood, to the heart and into the brain. While running these tests, he said the tobacco company's main goal was not to prove it was harmful, but to somehow make them less harmful. 

 

In DeNoble's tests, rats were connected to a tube that would inject them with nicotine if they stepped on a certain button. After the rats were injected the first time, they became increasingly dependent on the drug, choosing the injection over food and cleaning themselves. He said some rats were pressing the button for nicotine injection up to 90 times per day. 

 

"There's not a person on this earth who is immune from drug addiction," DeNoble said. "This is not a habit, this is a person who unintentionally changed the way their brain works. They're not controlling the drug, the drug is controlling them." 

 

After a person becomes an addict to any drug, it takes 5 to 10 years for the brain to recover, DeNoble added.  

 

"The biochemical addiction can be reversed over time," he said. "But the memory, that's never going to be reversed. You will never forget a drug addiction."  

 

After seeing DeNoble's tests, the company asked him to cease his studies. He did not.  

 

"I found that nicotine was changing the way a rat's brain works," DeNoble said. "They fired me."  

 

After his firing, he was bound to a secrecy agreement with Phillip Morris. For more than a decade, DeNoble remained silent, unable to release any of his scientific findings. However, after finding a single 35-millimeter photo of a rat he tested in the Phillip Morris lab, he became the first whistleblower of the tobacco industry.  

 

DeNoble mailed the photo anonymously, and FBI agents showed up to his house just days later. DeNoble ultimately testified before Congress on his research and lab findings which led to strict tobacco regulations -- including smoke-free hospitals, restaurants and most recently, college campuses. 

 

Community Counseling Services, who helped sponsor Saturday's event, also hosted Dr. Julius Kato, who spoke about the cardiovascular effects from addiction; Dr. Angela Riley, who explained kidney failure due to drug addiction; and Dr. Gaurav Dutta, who explained the impact of tobacco products on the lungs and pulmonary systems.  

 

The day-long program also included motivational speakers and representatives from MSU Collegiate Recovery Community -- a support group for students struggling with drug addiction. 

 

Arleen Weatherby, a prevention specialist with the Mississippi Prevention Alliance for Communities and Colleges, organized the event to educate 12-25-year-olds on drug abuse and prevention. She is also organizing this event next year and hopes to grow the program even more.  

 

Weatherby said the counties she reaches -- Oktibbeha, Lowndes, Winston, and Choctaw -- are the highest in the state for underage drinking and prescription drug abuse for that age range. She said college towns are the reason these counties are at a higher risk.  

 

"This goal was to educate the community," Weatherby said. "We are trying to prevent people from doing drugs, but if you are already in recovery, we want you to be able to come and get more information and take it back out into the community."

 

 

 

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