Jeffrey Wigand says it's not easy to come forward and share information that powerful people want to keep secret. But he says many people supported him after he revealed damaging details about the tobacco industry. Wigand says despite death threats and upheaval in his family life, he would do it again.
Jeffrey Wigand will speak at Western Michigan University on Tuesday April 7th in the Fetzer Center's Kirsch Auditorium. The story of Wigand's decision to go public with information that tobacco companies tried to hide from the public and the controversy surrounding his interview for CBS' 60 Minutes was the subject of the movie The Insider. Actor Russell Crowe played Wigand in the movie.
Work started on the film before Wigand knew about it. His involvement was minimal, but Wigand did make a couple of requests, including that the real names of his daughters not be used. But Wigand says the movie has allowed him to continue working to educate people about tobacco and for further laws and regulations on smoking.
Wigand says he couldn't keep secret what he knew about the tobacco companies. He says that's one thing he plans to discuss with students at Western Michigan University. Wigand says "doing the right thing is not always easy."
Asked about whether there has been any change in the tobacco companies, Wigand says "the leopard has not changed its spots." He says they use influence and lobbying efforts to fight off additional regulations and restrictions. And Wigand says the companies have worked to make sure that people working in those companies don't come forward. He says the separation agreements are very strict about what people can say. And Wigand says the companies have also worked to create "silos" to limit what people know.
These days Wigand spends much of his time in Mount Pleasant, but still travels around the world working to educate people about tobacco. He launched a foundation called Smoke Free Kids. Wigand calls his work "slow but effective."