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Man says habit makes brains go up in smoke

May 18, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

It took more than Victor DeNoble's scientific brain Monday to convince Washington County's fifth-graders not to smoke cigarettes.

It also took the brain of Sarah the monkey and the human brain of an unidentified cancer victim that DeNoble brought along to help prove his point.

A key witness in governmental hearings 10 years ago, DeNoble helped blow the whistle on the tobacco industry's practices, which led to the $710 billion settlement over the addictive properties of nicotine.

"In all my years as a research scientist for the Philip Morris tobacco company, I could never get any animal to put smoke into its lungs - only humans will do that," DeNoble told two assemblies at North Hagerstown High School Monday.

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DeNoble worked for Phillip Morris from 1980 to 1984 and was fired when the company shut down the research center where he worked. He testified on the addictive properties of nicotine before Congress in 1994, before the Food and Drug Administration in 1995 and 1996, and before Vice President Al Gore's Tobacco Settlement Committee in 1997. He now tours the country speaking to children as young as third graders, teenagers and adults about nicotine and its effects on the human brain.

"People who smoke a pack a day are introducing nicotine to their brains 1,400 separate times a week," DeNoble said. "They take 10 puffs on each cigarette, times 20 cigarettes a day, times seven days a week."

DeNoble, who has a doctorate in experimental psychology from Adelphi University, showed the students slides he smuggled out of the laboratory he worked in that showed how he forced nicotine into the bodies of rats and monkeys to study the effect of the drug on the brain.

Even after Sarah the monkey had been free of nicotine injections into her brain for two years, her brain still bore the changes the drug had caused.

"I asked a man who was dying of lung cancer if he still woke up each day wanting a cigarette and he said he did, even after he had quit smoking two years earlier," DeNoble said. It was that man's brain DeNoble showed the children Monday.

When DeNoble opened the floor to questions, hands went up all over the auditorium. The first youngster asked why tobacco companies would want people to smoke cigarettes and die.

"The answer is money. One smoker will spend $100,000 in a lifetime on cigarettes," DeNoble said.

Ten elementary schools sent fifth-graders to North Hagerstown High School Monday. The remaining classes are to hear the talk today.

A federal grant financed through the tobacco settlement fund supported the program at North High, according to Bonnie Forsyth, coordinator of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program in the Washington County Public Schools.

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