By a strict definition, most American adults are hooked on drugs. Even coffee drinkers who deny that caffeine causes cravings will acknowledge that nicotine is addictive; yet that's only a recent realization.
The surprisingly stylish documentary "Addiction Incorporated" traces the backlash against tobacco to a laboratory in Virginia in the 1980s. It wasn't an ordinary research facility — it was a top-secret lab funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris, which wanted to develop a nicotine alternative to keep its customers hooked without killing them.
A scientist, Victor DeNoble, discovered that a trace ingredient in tobacco smoke amplified the narcotic effects of nicotine. By tweaking the formula, DeNoble could cause lab rats to press a dosing lever up to 90 times a day.
Director Charles Evans Jr. illustrates these concepts with some clever animation of rats relaxing like little Joe Camels, and elsewhere he employs creative re-enactments and vivid cinematography. But the bottom line is dead serious.
When DeNoble tried to publish his findings in an academic journal, his employer invoked a secrecy clause, fired the scientist and killed the story.
Years later, dogged journalists sniffed a story and tracked down DeNoble, who agreed to meet under cloak-and-dagger circumstances. Together they unearthed the buried evidence and gave it to the feds. In 1994, Congress held hearings where the heads of the tobacco companies replied in unison that their products were not addictive.
While it's satisfying to see fat cats tamed by science and an enraged public, the movie misses the opportunity to sustain the pressure. It rushes through the court cases where some states forced tobacco companies to fund anti-smoking ad campaigns, and it doesn't mention that the corporations have shifted their focus overseas.
Audiences are addicted to happy endings, but in real-life battles against rats, cats always seem to win.
Three stars (out of four) • Rating PG • Run time 1:40 • Content Mature thematic material, smoking and some strong language • Where Tivoli Theatre