Years after disclosing the deepest, darkest, tobacco industry secret, whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand remains as outspoken as ever. He still believes in the fight against tobacco. He is still on the front line as a key educator on tobacco dangers.
Wigand was a big tobacco executive who made the top news when he revealed the addictive and dangerous nature of cigarettes. His testimony in a Mississippi courtroom eventually led to a $250 billion litigation settlement by the tobacco industry. The case was dramatized in the 1999 film The Insider, starring Russell Crowe as Wigand.
Some people regard whistleblowers as disloyal sell-outs. But Wigand believes he was loyal to ethics. People were suffering from lifetime diseases; something needed to be done to bring closure.
It’s ethical to let people know what they are smoking and how it’s going to affect their health. Wigand felt hiding such information would be depriving people of the information they needed to freely choose to risk the harmful effects of tobacco.
Wigand told the truth. He told the world about what he saw and experienced as the Head of Research and Development at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W), one of the country’s top three tobacco companies.
The company had been misleading consumers about nicotine’s addictive nature. The company ignored research on how the additives that help improve flavor caused cancer. The company’s actions led to the deaths and sickness of cigarette users. The company coded documents so they couldn’t be used in lawsuits.
Wigand exposed the health problems caused by the tobacco industry’s disregard for the public’s safety and health in an interview with 60 Minutes, as well as in his compelling deposition against the tobacco companies. The anti-tobacco forces promoted Jeffrey Wingand as a heroic portrait in courage.
The pro-tobacco lobbies were equally determined to taint Wigand’s reputation and demonize him. According to a New York Publication, B&W rep John Scanlon claimed Wingand was a bad guy: a habitual liar, a spousal abuser, shoplifter, and fraud.
Lawyers for B&W were convinced they could break the hero with a multimillion-dollar campaign of litigation, bad press, and harassment, but they underestimated Wingand’s motivation. In addition to his rage at the company’s actions, he was outraged that he was attached to this intolerable situation. He wanted personal vindication.
Now Wingand’s anti-tobacco crusade is penance for his long years of earning big bucks from tobacco. Then, everything was top class: an 8,000 square-foot house in a fancy neighborhood, golf club memberships, the best cars, the best schools for his kid. He even took his wife along on business trips.
Then he left tobacco and went from an annual salary of $300,000 to $30,000 as a schoolteacher. He’s faced death threats and lost his wife and kids in the nasty divorce.
Wigand eventually left teaching for public speaking on the issue of smoking. He founded the nonprofit Smoke-Free Kids.
He always urges parents to get involved in making legislation and asking for more government funding to be directed toward tobacco control.
Wigand knows that speaking out about the bad in society has a cost, but it also has its rewards.
This blog is printed with permission.
About the Author: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.Originally posted at: https://www.workplacefairness.org/blog/2021/02/01/jeffrey-wigand-the-tobacco-whistle-blower/