Italiano - Home page

Istituto Superiore di Sanità
EpiCentro - Epidemiology for public health
Epidemiology for public health - ISS

Food for thought: a short filmography on tobacco smoking

German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder used to say that «movies free our minds», and they certainly provide food for thought with their mix of fact and fiction. At a time when we are forced to stay at home, due to the COVID-19 emergency, we can rely on good movies to keep us entertained and make us think. Here are some suggestions:


  • The Insider
    The Insider is a 1999 film directed by Michael Mann and starring Russell Crowe, Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer. Based on a true story, the film follows Jeffrey Wigand, a former executive at Brown & Williamson (a leading U.S. tobacco company), as he decides to denounce the use of chemicals designed to enhance the addictiveness of tobacco in a brave interview. A serious frontal attack on tobacco multinationals, which will inevitably lead to a dramatic confrontation made of legal ploys, threats and injustices. Here science and journalism come together to open the viewer’s eyes to some dysfunctional and negative aspects of western capitalism. The use of chemical additives such as ammonia makes daily cigarette smoking, as Wigand reveals, comparable to the consumption of drugs. Indeed, the process known as “impact boosting” consists not in increasing the amount of nicotine in a cigarette, but in changing its composition through ammonia chemistry, thus enhancing its addictiveness. Therefore, cigarettes become a delivery device for nicotine fixes in a sort of potentially global “drug market”. The physiological response triggered in the human body leads to increased addiction, but also serious brain and central nervous system disorders. That explains how the cigarette business fuels tobacco addiction, affecting especially the most vulnerable group in our society: young people.


Publication date:15 April 2020

Author: Roberta Pacifici - Centro nazionale dipendenze e doping, ISS