Jerry Wigand, the former vice president for research and development of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, caused significant public outrage when he exposed the company’s intentional attempt to increase the carcinogenic and addictive components in its cigarettes. Since then, he’s traveled the world just to talk about it.

Wigand spoke at the School of Public Health Wednesday afternoon to a crowd of about 100 people, discussing the potential public health impact and controversy surrounding e-cigarettes, the science behind tobacco engineering that promotes addiction and the current state of the tobacco industry in the United States.

Wigand lost his job at Brown & Williamson and received numerous death threats after disclosing the company’s secrets. After his dismissal, he assisted the U.S. Federal Drug Association with their investigation of Brown & Williamson. He became nationally known as a tobacco whistleblower after revealing that the company had altered the tobacco content in its cigarettes on the CBS news program “60 Minutes.” This exposé inspired the 1999 movie, “The Insider.”

In 1995, Wigand reached international prominence when he became the tobacco industry’s highest-ranking former executive to address public health and smoking issues. Under incredible pressure himself, with even his wife and family members also receiving threats of violence, he informed the public about the industry’s poor health and safety practices.

When discussing his decision to go public with Brown & Williamson’s fraudulent practices Wednesday, Wigand stressed the importance of reacting ethically.

“It’s a gradual evolution to understand what moral obligations one has with the knowledge they have and to avoid that culpability by being a bystander,” he said. “A bystander is someone who watches on and does nothing about it. I had to do something about it.”

Wigand recounted how after he went public, Brown & Williamson filed a lawsuit against him because of his public disclosures about the industry’s effort to diminish the health and safety issues with tobacco use. The lawsuit was dismissed as a condition in the historic 1996 settlement agreement between the U.S. Attorney General and the tobacco industry.

Currently, Wigand spends his time in lectures around the world advocating for employees of morally corrupt companies to not stand by idly. He is still active in ligations in the tobacco industry and is works as consultant on tobacco. He also leads a non-profit organization for kids, Smoke-Free Kids Inc., with which he concentrates his energy educating kids about the tobacco industry.

When asked if he would blow the whistle again, Wigand said his involvement in the process was simply planting the seed of change and that he was generally proud of his actions.

“Never did I expect that there would be success or the belief that it would really make a difference,” he said. “The media, my students, my family, law enforcement, justice department — they all made it happen. I was just this substantial catalyst.”

The event drew a wide variety of attendees, ranging from current students to international tobacco experts.

Pharmacy student Brad Vincent was inspired to attend the lecture after he watched “The Insider.”

“I’m in the health and tobacco class and we watched the movie ‘The Insider’ last week and it was a great movie, we learned a lot about tobacco and the whole process. I was born in the early ‘90s so I never got to know what happened,” Pittson said.

LSA senior Emily Long said she found the lecture particularly relevant to her field of study.

“I am actually writing a senior thesis on electronic cigarettes so I thought this would be a really interesting piece to come here and learn about someone who has a lot more expertise than I have,” Long said.

Jose Monzon, a tobacco researcher from Guatemala, found the lecture to be helpful from an international perspective.

“He’s a big figure in the tobacco world. I’m interested to learn about the current trends in how tobacco control is affecting populations nowadays and particularly how to reduce tobacco use in low and middle income countries, such as Guatemala.”

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