Insider Dr. Wigand took on big tobacco and came out a winner
Courageous individuals who take the road less traveled often reach the end of the road with well-worn shoes, tattered clothing for the thankless actions and peace of mind knowing they accomplished something bigger than themselves.
When Dr. Jeffery Wigand began his career in the medical research industry he never thought his scientific research would send tsunami-like waves throughout the lucrative tobacco industry. Dr. Wigand did just that when he took the leap of faith to right the wrongs being perpetrated by the greedy tobacco companies.
Dr. Wigand started his scientific research career in the tobacco industry with Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W) the third largest tobacco company. The $300,000 salary secured him a slot as the vice president of Research and Development. With his health care background and impressive degrees, MA, Ph.D., MAT, Sc.D, Wigand set out to establish a new life and earn a respectable living for his young family.
It’s clear that Dr. Wigand wanted to change they way people refer to whistle blowers. “I would like to suggest that we start using the tern “Persons of Conscience (POC)” rather than the pejorative term “whistle blower” because of all its negative connotations, such as tattle tale, snitch, rat-fink, disloyal, etc. A POC sees a greater good worthy of praise and honor and therefore not to be demeaned for noble actions.”
He continues, “Persons of Consciences step forward, often in harms way to right a wrong for the betterment of all citizens of the universe and fulfill the categorical imperative and negate the “bystander” status.”
Dr Wigand is humbled by his experience with big tobacco. “I am honored that people think I am a hero but I do not accept that moniker as others are much more deserving of it. I did what was right, I have no regrets and would do it again. As you see we are ordinary people placed in some extraordinary situations and did the right thing as all should do.”
Clearly a man with a mission
He began is work at B&W on the development of an engineered tobacco product, code-named Airbus, the cigarette had less “biological activity” – industry speak for a nicotine-delivery device that causes less disease.
It is through his prism that he shares his chosen and a few of the many observations and experiences that highlight the behavior of this company- and its total disregard for public health and safety. By putting profits and sales over health concerns and truth, B&W sealed their fate by hiring the young up-and-coming scientist.
The tobacco company clearly articulated the internal mantra: “We are in the nicotine-delivery business, and tar is the negative baggage.” In other words, nicotine is addictive and pharmacologically active and there is a possibility that a product could be safer but never safe.
The company’s extensive use of this technology, which is called ammonia chemistry, allows for nicotine to be more rapidly absorbed in the lung and therefore affect the brain and central nervous system.
It would be a Vancouver meeting that uncovered some bad news regarding cigarettes that would reach senior executives of B&W, the notes clearly distressed management. “We had articulated the antithesis of the external mantra, which was; “Nicotine was there for taste and not addictive and tobacco products could be made safer in many ways, from less biologically active to fire-safe.”
As a result of this meeting a system of sequestering and vetting controversial documents generated by any of the operating companies was ordered and put into place to protect the tobacco company. In addition, all safer-cigarette work was terminated and all further work on that project was transferred overseas, along with the documents. This would end Dr. Wigand’s hope to produce a safer tobacco product and begin the cover up of “if we hook `em young, we hook `em for life.”
“I did my best not to rock the boat until August of 1992, when I received a draft copy of a National Toxicology Program report exposing one of the additives used by the company as carcinogenic,” Dr. Wigand explained. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me and really put me in trouble. The compound called coumarin would seal the deal.”
Dr Wigand explained that coumarin is a flavoring that provides a sweet taste to tobacco products, but it is also known to cause tumors in the livers of mice. It was removed from B&W cigarettes, but according to documents, B&W continued to use it in its Sir Walter Raleigh aromatic pipe tobacco until at least 1992.
“There are times I wish I hadn’t done it (went public). But there were times that I feel compelled to do it. If you asked me if I would do it again or if I think it’s worth it? Yeah. I think it’s worth it. I think in the end people will see the truth,” Dr Wigand explains his logic behind stepping into the media spotlight and testifying regarding to dangers of the tobacco industry.
There was another report generated by independent researchers, as part of a national toxic safety program, it presented evidence that coumarin is a carcinogen that causes various harmful cancers.
In fact, many tobacco products are laced with more than 600 intentionally added chemical additives that are put into the tobacco and waste tobacco-derived materials in order to lessen the harshness generated when burning a bioorganic material. This bioorganic material that tobacco generates also uses over 5,000 toxic chemical pyrolysis compounds. These combustion type chemicals are so toxic you cannot bury them in solid-waste disposal areas, according to Dr. Wigand.
Tobacco critics often compare the dangers of tobacco products to the use of hard drugs. For example, critics point to the fact that tobacco kills more people in the U.S. than hard drugs. This is directly opposite to what the big tobacco companies were saying under oath in April of 1994. The seven chief executive officers of all the major U.S. tobacco companies appeared in Congress and stated that nicotine was not addictive and that nicotine was there for taste therefore smoking was no more dangerous to your health than eating Twinkies. This was a blatant lie.
“While employed with B&W, I began to share my negative knowledge with the FDA. I did it with the agreement that I would have a completely anonymous working relationship. I would travel to the FDA offices in Rockville, Maryland, under assumed names going through unmarked entrances,” Dr. Wigand explained.
Meanwhile there were other reports floating around the tobacco industry like “The Cigarette Papers.” A Dr. Glantz shared these 1950-through-1980s documents with Dr. Wigand. “These documents mirrored my exact experiences from 1989 through 1993 at B&W as well as provided me the first opportunity to see data I never saw while at B&W. This was the final and culminating step in my journey to an epiphany.”
August of 1995 would begin Dr. Wigand’s relationship with famous television program CBS ‘60 Minutes.’
“I needed to set my moral compass back on a true heading,” he said.
Somehow B&W learned of the interview and threatened CBS with a lawsuit based on tortuous interference, something that could be worth billions in damages. Dr Wigand was devastated to learn his interview would be withheld from the 60 Minutes original program.
However, by October, the transcript of the interview was leaked to the New York media. “Bedlam hit Louisville when the story hit the streets. I was sued for ex parte for theft of trade secrets, violation of my confidentiality agreement and restrained from discussing tobacco, lost my freedom of speech and First Amendment rights.”
At this point CBS provided the Wigand’s with 24/7 physical security by former secret service agents. “They lived with us every minute, checked and opened the daily mail, started the car in the morning, followed me to school, where I was teaching high school chemistry, biology, physical sciences, and Japanese, to check my class room, escorted my two daughters to school, play, and so forth. Ultimately, the school was forced to place physical security at my classroom door due to the recurrent daily threats. Not a fun time,” says Dr. Wigand.
Also during this time Mississippi lawmakers were looking into the ills of tobacco and were seeking retribution for all the medical costs related to the tobacco industry. They approached Dr. Wigand about testifying in court. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that his deposition could go forward but ordered it “sealed.” Concurrently, B&W went to the Kentucky Supreme Court and obtained a contempt order against Dr. Wigand should he testify in Mississippi’s afternoon court session.
It was decision time for Dr. Wigand and after reflecting on the issues, he decided to go forward because he had already paid the price. “I would most likely never get the opportunity to do it (testify) again. B&W would tie me up in court for an eternity. I decided to go forward and have never looked back since that day. The deposition in the Chancery Court Hose was a fiasco. The tobacco industry lawyers were as abundant as sand on the beach and adamant in their efforts to prevent the proceeding from going forward with threats and constant verbal interruptions,” Dr. Wigand explained.
The turning point for many things in the war on tobacco began in 1996 when the sealed deposition from Mississippi found its way to the Wall Street Journal.
After that B&W spent millions for a smear campaign by using private investigators, a publicist and large law firms. Luckily for Dr. Wigand it did not succeed in discrediting him in the court of public opinion because the Wall Street Journal refused to print a story without assessing the validity of the accusations.
On the other hand, the local paper in Louisville published the B&W orchestrated smear campaign without investigating any of the allegations. Adding fuel to the fire, someone managed to put a live bullet in his mailbox and threatened his daughters- despite having two armed-security personnel on duty.
The ordeal culminated with a divorce notification from his wife of ten years on their 10th wedding anniversary. Not much more could happen. “It was not what I expected and it is the most disappointing aspect of this whole journey,” Dr. Wigand said.
“B&W’s lawsuit against me ended in June of 1997. Since that date, I have been free to speak my mind as to how the industry steals our children at an early age and how the industry knowingly markets a product that kills when used as intended.”
The journey into the spotlight ended with a major motion picture “The Insider” that starred Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. Although it marked the beginning of the end for Dr. Wigand’s voyage of sharing the evils of the tobacco industry with the world, it would mark a new beginning on his quest to ensure children steer clear of the highly-addictive drug called tobacco.
The blockbuster movie was about the truth; will and can big tobacco use its might to intimidate the guardians of free press? That is the chilling relevant take-away message from the film, one that can transcend the passage of time.
Dr. Wigand leaves with a relevant quotation from J.F. Kennedy; “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of these acts, will be written the history of this generation.”
Mission of the Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) has been around for 30 years and while the decades may have focused on different red herrings throughout the country the nonprofit public interest group’s mission has remained steadfast. The GAP organization promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistle blowers and empowering citizen activists.
“We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety and Federal Employee/National Security programs,” according to a company website. “GAP is the nation’s leading whistle blower protection organization.”
Another organization offering support to those who decide to pursue the lamp lighting method to shine the spotlight on private and government wrong-doing is the National Whistleblower Center. They have supported Americans who are willing to step outside the company line in order to ensure wrongs are righted since 1988.
Their attorneys have been associated with it and supported whistle blowers in the courts and before Congress. They have achieved victories for environmental protection, government contract fraud, nuclear safety, government and corporate accountability.
In addition to defending the jobs and careers of a number of lamp lighters, NWC’s victories include the following: National Whistleblowers Center using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to compel government agencies to release hundreds of thousands of pages of information documenting government misconduct; Exposing misconduct at the World Trade Center and the 9/11 crime scenes, including theft by FBI agents and the mishandling of evidence.
NWC has been successful in documenting deficiencies in the FBI’s counterterrorism program, requiring the FBI to create whistle blower protection for FBI agents (the first time in U.S. history).
The organization has worked closely with Congress to ensure passage of critical whistle blower protection laws, such as the No-Fear Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Corporate Whistleblower Protection Act and the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act.
Other issues tackled by NWC include prevention of federal agencies from gagging employee free speech critical of agency policies, banning “hush money” payments for all environmental and nuclear federal safety cases and the recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars for the United States taxpayers from corrupt government contractors.
Working with employees the NWC forced the Department of Justice to review thousands of criminal convictions resulting in the release of innocent defendants from prison, exposed the illegal no-bid contract between Halliburton and the Army Corps of Engineers for the reconstruction of Iraq after the 2003 invasion and subsequent war.
By establishing numerous legal precedents to strengthen whistle blower protections for public and private sector employees NWC increased rights of lamp lighters, including expanding the scope of protected whistle blower speech, enjoining government regulations which restricted whistle blowing and expanding the use of the Privacy Act to prevent the government from smearing its critics.
For those who take the journey into the spotlight they can expect whistle blower retaliation. This unacceptable behavior takes on different shapes and forms, including; denial of rights and benefits, isolation by peers, demotion, loss of promotion, libel, slander, defamation of character, cut in pay, public scrutiny, privacy violations, blown cover (for under-cover agents or informants), job termination, harassment, stress, death threats, baseless investigations, malicious prosecutions and attempts on the whistle blower’s life (like Frank Serpico).
The “lamp lighter” needs to keep in mind retaliation is prohibited by law which states, “A federal employee authorized to take, direct others to take, recommend or approve any personnel action may not take, fail to take, or threaten to take any personnel action against an employee because of protected whistle blowing.”
While there is a long way to go in this country regarding the treatment of courageous citizens who step out on that ledge and risk it all in the name of right verses wrong, with the support of whistle blower organizations the road is a little more traveled and can be easier for defenders of truth to reach the finish line.
This is part two of a week long series.
For more stories; http://www.examiner.com/x-10317-San-Diego-County-Political-Buzz-Examiner