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Jeffrey Wigand became famous in the 1990s when he took public his knowledge that cigarette companies had tried to conceal the dangers of smoking.
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He next moved to Technicon to serve as senior vice president in charge of marketing blood testing equipment, and then in 1987 he was named president of Biosonics, a small medical equipment company. Wigand remarried to a Johnson & Johnson sales representative named Lucretia in 1986.
In December 1988, Wigand shocked his colleagues, friends and family by suddenly leaving the healthcare industry to become the head of research and development for Brown & Williamson, the nation's third largest tobacco company (after Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds). Wigand later admitted that he was tempted by the money, power and prestige that came with the position. Furthermore, he believed his role would be to help Brown & Williamson reduce the health risks of smoking. "I thought I would have an opportunity to make a difference and work on a safer cigarette," Wigand said in defense of his decision to accept the job. "I talked to a lot of my friends from college. They said, 'You know, you're never going to be able to come back. You can't go from tobacco back into health care.'"
Despite his initial optimism, Wigand quickly grew disillusioned with what he saw as the unethical practices of Brown & Williamson and the tobacco industry in general. He discovered a shocking gap between what top company executives knew and admitted privately – that cigarette smoking was highly addictive and caused lung cancer – and what they stated publicly – that cigarette smoking was not addictive and that no definitive links existed between smoking and health problems. He was also confronted with the company's extensive and sophisticated disinformation campaign to conceal from the public its knowledge of the dangers of cigarette smoking. "It was like being aware and not being aware," Wigand remembered. "You look back on things that happened when you were present and you say, 'Hell, they knew about that all along.'"
Gradually Wigand began to ask his superiors uncomfortable questions about smoking and health and to demand greater freedom to research these issues. His questions were ignored, his research proposals rejected, and on March 24, 1993, Wigand was fired. Anticipating Wigand's anger with the company, Brown & Williamson forced him to sign a confidentiality agreement by threatening to take away his severance package's health care benefit if he refused. As Brown & Williamson knew, Wigand's daughter had been diagnosed with spina bifida, a serious medical condition that required constant and highly expensive treatment.
For the next two years, Wigand worked as a high school science and Japanese teacher, earning approximately one-tenth his previous salary at Brown & Williamson. Then, in 1994, Wigand broke his confidentiality agreement and agreed to work as a consultant with CBS's 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman on a story about tobacco industry efforts to develop a "fire safe" cigarette. Thus began a dramatic two years that would see Wigand become one of the most famous "whistleblowers" (corporate informants) in American history.
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