DeNoble, Victor J., Ph.D.(PM Behavioral Research (1980-84)) Associate Senior Scientist at PM Behavioral Research (83). Senior Researcher at Philip Morris from 1980-1984. Performed in-house PM rat studies on nicotine and addiction; was later fired by PM because of sensitive nature of what studies revealed about nicotine addiction.
Victor John DeNoble II was born in 1949 and attended Adelphi University in Garden City, Long Island, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1971, a Masters of Science degree in experimental psychology three years later. He then received a Ph.D. in experimental psychology in 1976 for a dissertation entitled “Response Acceleration and
Suppression Produced by Response-Independent Food Presentation in Rats with Septial Lesions,” a study of how a particular type of brain damage affects the behavior of rats.
After receiving his doctorate, DeNoble conducted post-doctoral research in behavioral pharmacology at two different institutions. At the Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, he used rats and monkeys to study alcohol addiction. He then moved on to the University of Minnesota, where he expanded the study to incorporate such drugs as pentobarbitol and methahexatol.
In February of 1980, DeNoble received a phone call from Dr. William Dunn, the manager of Philip Morris’s Psychology Research Group, asking if he would be interested in establishing a behavioral pharmacology laboratory in Richmond. Dunn explained that the goal of the laboratory would be to support the company’s nicotine analogue program, which was designed to find a substitute for nicotine that retained reinforcing effect on the central nervous system but eliminated the adverse effects on other parts of the body. DeNoble was intrigued by both the nature of the work and “the potential to have a direct, positive impact for society” and he accepted.
He began working for Philip Morris on April 1, 1980, and began establishing a behavioral pharmacology laboratory to study nicotine analogues. The lab was very much DeNoble’s bailiwick and he was responsible for hiring staff, ordering equipment, designing the behavioral experiments, and administering every other aspect of it.
The research team led by DeNoble produced some major findings about the interaction between nicotine and the brain. For example, they were the first to pinpoint the vestibular nucleus – the area of the brain that affects balance and coordination – as being specifically affected by nicotine. As a result of this and other breakthroughs, including the results of self-administration testing, DeNoble reached the conclusion that nicotine has “reinforcing properties.”
But while DeNoble had considerable autonomy, his reports on his findings were being read and scrutinized by top-level executives. In 1982, DeNoble was asked to present his findings to top management and at the end of his presentation was asked only one question – Philip Morris chairman of the board Ross Millhiser asked him, “Why should I risk a billion-dollar industry on rats pressing a lever to get nicotine?”
DeNoble’s reports were also being forwarded to company attorneys for their assessment of how the findings affected Philip Morris’s legal exposure. In 1983, Philip Morris attorneys Shook, Hardy & Bacon reported that DeNoble’s finding about the “reinforcing properties” of nicotine was a conclusion that “strengthens the adverse case against nicotine as an addictive drug.” The law firm advised that “the performing and publishing of nicotine-related research clearly seems ill-advised from a litigation point of view.” As a result, DeNoble, who had just received a promotion from Project Leader to Associate Senior Scientist, was instructed to withdraw an already accepted paper from the journal Psychopharmacology.
Philip Morris spent several more months deliberating about whether to let DeNoble continue his research. One of the possibilities that was discussed was moving the entire laboratory to Switzerland, where the findings would not be subject to subpoena in U. S. courts. But in April of 1984 a decision was made. According to DeNoble, “On April 5, 1984, at three in the afternoon, Dr. [Jim] Charles called me to his office and was telling me what a great job we had done for the company. Quite frankly, I thought this was great and we were getting a lot of accolades. Then he said that Philip Morris was discontinuing animal research beginning now. He told me to shut the equipment off; terminate the experiments, even if they were ongoing – which they were; and to kill all the animals. Our passes were deactivated so we couldn’t get back into the lab the next day.” DeNoble was also pointedly reminded that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement when he had been hired and that legal action would follow if he broke it.
DeNoble did test the non-disclosure agreement by submitting a revised version of his article to the journal Psychopharmacology, but withdrew it when he received a letter from company attorneys advising him that he had violated his confidentiality agreement
and warning that, “The Company cannot tolerate this kind of conduct. . . . Any
further breach of your agreement will result in action being taken.” As a result, it was a full ten years before the story of the abrupt closing of his research laboratory came to light. In 1994, the editor of Psychopharmacology came forward with the story of the article that was accepted but then withdrawn. Dr. Jack E. Henningfield, one of the leading experts in the field , confirmed that the findings in the paper were important and that its suppression “set the field back six years at least before work like it could be accomplished by Canadian researchers.”
In response to these revelations, at the hearings of the Waxman subcommittee in April, Representative Mike Synar asked Philip Morris President and CEO William I. Campbell to release Dr. DeNoble from his confidentiality agreement so that he could testify. After vacillating, Campbell finally agreed to do so and DeNoble appeared before the subcommittee. His whistle-blowing testimony cause quite a stir, and he was subsequently featured on such television shows as “60 Minutes” and “Dateline NBC.”
After leaving Philip Morris in 1984, DeNoble spent three years as a Research Associate at Ayerst Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey, doing research on the central nervous system research. In 1987, he accepted a similar position with DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware, remaining with the firm until 1992. From 1992 to1997, DeNoble worked for the Delaware State Department of Mental Retardation as a Senior Behavior Analyst.
He then accepted a position on the Tobacco-Free Delaware project, which was sponsored by the Delaware chapter of the American Lung Association. But after being released from the nondisclosure agreement, DeNoble had formed his own consulting business, Hissho, Inc., and was being kept busy working with public health departments and hospitals and giving lectures about addiction. After ten months with the Tobacco-Free Delaware project, DeNoble resigned to devote all of his time to giving lectures. Since then, he has toured the country, giving talks to students from elementary schools to colleges and universities each year, as well as to educators and health care professionals. He has also given testimony in a number of tobacco-related cases, including Sackman v. Liggett, Shires v. Celotex, Scott v. American Tobacco, Reed v. Philip Morris, Richardson v. Philip Morris, and United States of America v. Philip Morris USA Inc.
Allan M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America (New York: Basic Books, 2007).
Victor John DeNoble, II, “Deposition of VICTOR JOHN DENOBLE, II, Ph.D., September 16, 1988, SHIRES v. CELOTEX CORP.,” http://tobaccodocuments.org/datta/DENOBLEV091688.html.
Victor John DeNoble, II, “Trial testimony of VICTOR JOHN DENOBLE, II, Ph.D., February 6, 2003, SCOTT v. AMERICAN TOBACCO CO.,” http://tobaccodocuments.org/datta/DENOBLEV020603AM.html and http://tobaccodocuments.org/datta/DENOBLEV020603PM.html
Victor John DeNoble, II, “Written trial testimony of VICTOR JOHN DENOBLE, II, Ph.D., accepted January 6, 2005, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. PHILIP MORRIS USA INC.,” http://tobaccodocuments.org/datta/DENOBLEV-ER.html.
Philip J. Hilts, “Philip Morris Blocked ‘83 Paper Showing Tobacco Is Addictive, Panel Finds,” New York Times, April 1, 1994
Richard Kluger, Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris (New York: Vintage Books, 1996).
For More Biographical Information:
Who’s Who in Frontier Science and Technology. First edition, 1984- 1985. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1984.