Students attend lecture on nicotine on the brain
Victor DeNoble’s job at the Philip Morris tobacco company during the 1980s was to find a substitute for nicotine to make a “safe” cigarette.
DeNoble, who holds a doctorate in experimental psychology, is a former tobacco researcher who now lectures to 350,000 students a year on nicotine addiction. He told students at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School about the physiological effects of the drug on May 11.
“My job at Philip Morris was to find a substitute for nicotine – a drug that wouldn’t kill people but still get them hooked on cigarettes,” DeNoble said. “A cigarette that wouldn’t kill anyone.”
DeNoble said his studies showed it takes 3-6 months to get a person’s brain to become addicted to nicotine. It takes 5-10 years for the brain to go back to normal even after a person quits smoking or using chewing tobacco.
“The brain makes no differentiation on how nicotine gets into the bloodstream,” he said. “Nicotine goes to the part of the brain that controls happiness and drug addiction.”
The research DeNoble conducted at Philip Morris was to develop a substitute for nicotine that would retain its addictiveness but would not cause adverse effects on the cardiovascular system.
DeNoble was part of a group of whistle-blowers who testified before Congress in 1994 that tobacco companies lied to the government when they claimed they didn’t know cigarettes were dangerous.
“As a result of that testimony, the tobacco companies were fined $750 billion,” DeNoble said. “Because of that, now there’s no cigarettes on billboards, no cartoon characters smoking cigarettes. There was only one smoke-free state, California, 13 years ago and now there’s 20 states.”
During his lecture, DeNoble showed slides of his experiments on rats, but what made the biggest impression on the students was when he walked the frozen brains of a drug-addicted monkey and a nicotine-addicted human around the audience.
One student who didn’t want to be identified, said she is already trying to stop smoking but seeing nicotine-affected brains will help in the process.
David Harris, 15, said DeNoble’s lecture should be seen by more people.
“With all his research, it would be beneficial for everyone,” said Harris. “I wish both my parents saw it because they smoke. Nicotine sticks with you for five years even after you quit smoking. It would be great for everyone to see.”
DeHoble’s lectures in Alpine County, at Pau-Wa-Lu and Douglas High were made possible by the Partnership of Community Resources and Alpine County Health Department.