An opponent of the tobacco industry, Jeffrey Wigand, spoke Monday in Gaston Hall on his dismissal from a large tobacco company and why he revealed confidential information exposing secrets of the industry. Wigand’s story was portrayed in the 1998 film, The Insider.
According to Wigand, the tobacco industry spends around $8.25 billion a year on advertising. Wigand cited a study on icon recognition with children. He said thirty percent of three year olds and 91 percent of six year olds recognize Joe Camel over such cartoon characters as Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse.
Wigand said the tobacco industry mantra is, “If you hook them young, you hook them for life.”
Wigan was hired at the tobacco company, Brown Williams in January 1989 to work towards producing a safer cigarette. “What I say about the company and their products is not meant to be derogatory,” Wigand said.
Wigand said lawyers working for Brown Williams told him how to interpret scientific data.
According to Wigand, he later learned Brown Williams was claiming there was no correlation between smoking and poor health. Wigand said he prepared a memorandum outlining methods for creating a safer cigarette, but his superior altered the memorandum so it would not be damaging in a court of law.
“I turned and looked the other way,” Wigand said. According to Wigand, he did not believe the propaganda of his company but said he kept quiet out of fear for the health of one of his daughters if he lost his job and health care benefits.
After Wigand was fired in March of 1993, he was denied benefits and began to speak out against the tobacco industry. He was contacted by Congress to testify regarding lawsuits filed by Mississippi and 49 other states against the tobacco industry. Two death threats were made against his children in an attempt to keep him from cooperating with Congress.
Wigand then spoke to 60 Minutes, a CBS network news program regarding tobacco companies.
Wigand said before his interview could be aired, another network, ABC, aired a program stating that cigarettes are “addictive and that they’re spiked.” ABC was then sued by Phillip Morris for $15 billion, Wigand said.
In October of 1995, CBS cancelled the 60 Minutes interview. Wigand said the program was cancelled because CBS received threats from Brown Williams.
Wigand said the entire transcript of the program was leaked to the press and he was then sued by Brown Williams for breach of contract.
In November of 1995, Wigand decided to testify in Mississippi regarding Fire-Safe Cigarettes. Wigand said he was told that if he testified, he would be arrested for breaking his confidentiality agreement with Brown Williams as soon as he returned to his home and family in Kentucky.
Wigand continued with his deposition, which was kept confidential. He was not arrested upon returning to Kentucky.
Wigand said his children received more death threats and Brown Williams made an effort to soil his reputation. On June 20, 1997, the results of the trial were announced: $246 billion would be divided among Mississippi and the 49 other states that had sued the tobacco industry.
Wigand now speaks to students in elementary school regarding the dangers of smoking. Wigand said cigarette companies target that age group.
Wigand concluded with a thought from his experience. He said students should “get involved in community service, mentoring and voting” in order to reduce smoking with children.