A Short Biography of Jeffery Wigand

Jeffrey Wigand is the whistleblower and alleged hero who was a top-level executive at Brown & Williamson Tobacco in the late eighties and early nineties who illegally breached two separate confidentiality agreements by leaking trade secrets to a television network (CBS) and the Federal government. Wigand is the son of a mechanical engineer, a dad who stressed independence; he grew up in a strict Catholic home in the Bronx, the oldest of five children. As a kid, he had to control his anger when he felt that he was tolerated rather than understood and as a teenager. A gifted student, he flourished in the quiet atmosphere of science labs and planned to study medicine, until he exploded at home and announced that he was dropping out of college to join the Air Force. In 1961, Wigand was posted to Misawa, an American base in Japan where he
worked in the base hospital O.R. He learned Japanese and, a jogger at college, became acquainted with martial arts. Back in the States, he continued his education at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, earning his doctorate with distinction. He began work at a health-care company. He met his wife, Lucretia, in 1981 at a sales conference at Ortho Diagnostic Systems, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, where he was a director of marketing. They married in 1986. Wigand moved up the corporate ladder into more responsible positions and work stress. A perfectionist, his tendency to say what was on his mind did not endear him to management.

After 17 years in the health-care field, Wigand went to work for Brown & Williamson, the tobacco company, in December 1988 with an initial assignment of developing a new, healthier cigarette to put into a competitive market. His department budget was more than $30 million and he had a staff of 243. Wigand found his lab outdated and saw no evidence of health standards in the tobacco research. Even in the ’60s, documents were beginning to claim that cigarettes were addictive and caused cancer but Wigand claimed he did not learn of these studies until later. Wigand soon learned that in the tobacco-patter, “increased biological activity” was code for cancer and other diseases. Notes were not allowed at certain meetings and status reports that included medical findings were screened. The litigation department had a budget in the millions to keep any case from proving that a smoker was damaged from the use of the product. The B&W personnel kept closed ranks and Wigand soon learned to trust no one. In 1991, his evaluation at work read that he had “a difficulty in communication.” He was becoming a problem with his questions and criticism.

In late 1992 he objected to the use of coumarin in cigarettes when it was proven to cause cancer in rats and mice and was told that the removal would impact sales. His anger began to focus and take shape, and Wigand concentrated his research on the properties of additives. On 3/24/1993, Wigand was fired and escorted from the building, with his diary and papers confiscated. Wigand’s daughter suffered from Spina Bifida and he needed insurance coverage. In order to get his severance benefits, he signed a confidentiality agreement that he would not divulge company policy.

In September, B&W sued Wigand and suspended his health insurance and severance benefits, contending that he violated his confidentiality pledge by discussing the terms of his severance with another company executive. They were aware that Wigand had been called to testify as part of a 1993 U.S. Justice Department investigation into Philip Morris’ “fire safe” cigarette program. They tightened their hold by insisting that Wigand sign a tougher agreement of nondisclosure. A producer of “60 Minutes,” Lowell Bergman met with Wigand while producing a story on Philip Morris’ “fire safe” cigarette. Bergman asked Wigand to help him interpret secret internal Philip Morris documents anonymously sent to him in late 1993.

On 2/28/1994, ABC’s newsmagazine, “Day One,” broadcast a story contending that Philip Morris “spiked” the nicotine content of its cigarettes. On March 27, “60 Minutes” aired its story on the Philip Morris’ research, the full impact of which was killed by Philip Morris for fear of negative legal ramifications. During the course of the story’s production, Wigand was reportedly paid an estimated $12,000 for his time and expenses as a consultant. In July, The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into possible perjury by seven top tobacco company executives who testified at April 14 congressional hearings that “nicotine is not addictive.” Wigand was named as an expert defense witness for ABC. On August 3, after a summer of indecision, Wigand and his wife agree to an interview with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes.” On August 21, ABC News agreed to a carefully worded apology for the “Day One” report on 2/28/1994 that said Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds controlled and manipulated nicotine levels to addict smokers. ABC also agreed to pay all legal fees – an amount that totaled some $15 million, rather than face a libel suit that would cost a great deal more.

Parts of the Wigand transcript leaked to the New York Daily News. Wigand reportedly said that B&W Tobacco Corp. had vetoed plans to make a safer cigarette and continued to use a flavoring in pipe tobacco known to cause cancer in lab animals. Moreover, he supposedly said the company’s former CEO Thomas Sandefur was guilty of perjury when he told Congress that nicotine was not addictive. Wigand agreed to speak to The Wall Street Journal as an anonymous source, which printed essentially the story that “60 Minutes” found too hot to tackle, that internal reports showed that leading U.S. tobacco companies enhance nicotine delivery to smokers by adding ammonia-based compounds to cigarettes, chemicals that increase the potency of the nicotine inhaled. In 1996, the Journal won a Pulitzer Prize for this story. At the request of anti-tobacco plaintiffs’ lawyers, Jeffrey Wigand provided a deposition in a civil action against tobacco manufacturers brought by the state of Mississippi. The state sought reimbursement for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses over the years. Wigand supported previously publicized contentions that Brown & Williamson lawyers improperly controlled research programs in an effort to limit potential liability in injury lawsuits filed against the company.

By 1994, Wigand was out of work and being threatened and slandered. He was drinking heavily and his marriage was suffering badly from the fallout of his public battle as well as the illness of his daughter. Wigand and his wife both blame B&W for placing an unbearable strain on their marriage, one that led to a later divorce. In 1995, Wigand took a job teaching Japanese at a fraction of his former salary. He moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Louisville and appeared content. Brown & Williamson sued Dr. Wigand, accusing its former vice president of theft, fraud, breach of contract and other offenses. The lawsuit was dismissed as a condition of the 6/20/1997 historic settlement between the Attorneys General of 40 States and the tobacco industry.

Wigand has received numerous awards and public recognition for his action in revealing tobacco company research and marketing practices. He continues his efforts to reduce teen tobacco use through a non-profit organization he formed, Smoke-Free Kids, Inc. While Wigand’s efforts may have created some positive results, the question remains whether or not Wigand was ethically right in exposing his employer. Wigand’s motivation must be explored; it appears that many of his actions were retaliations to actions of B & W. Wigand broke the law by breaking his confidentiality agreement. Much of the information he supplied was not new information, instead he appeared to be vindictive against his former employer and trying to harm them. I do not believe Wigand’s actions were altruistic, he was working for the best interest of Wigand, not the general public.

Works Cited:

Wigard, Jeffery. “About Dr. Wigand.” Jeffery Wigand.com. 2000. Smoke Free Kids. 22 Sep.
2005 .
“Jeffery Wigand.” PBS. org. PBS. 22 Sep. 2005
.
David, Enrich . “Jeffery Wigand The Inside That Blew Smoke at Big Tobacco.” Truth Tellers.
2004. US News and World Reports. 24 Sep. 2005
.

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