The truth is, Wigand doesn’t even like the term “whistle-blower”. According to him, “The word whistle-blower suggests that you're a tattletale or that you're somehow disloyal," he says. "But I wasn't disloyal in the least bit. People were dying. I was loyal to a higher order of ethical responsibility.”
Whatever term one uses to describe him, it’s clear that Wigand was a major force in what many call the “Tobacco Wars” of the 1990s.
Wigand spent most of his early career days working in the healthcare industry. In January 1989, Wigand ironically switched from being a healthcare professional to working for the Brown & Williamson Tobacco company as the head of research and development - earning a far better pay check. Four years later, Wigand was fired. According to Wigand, he was fired because of his knowledge that upper executives knowingly approved ingredients in their cigarettes that were either highly addictive or highly toxic.
Then, in a highly publicised move, Wigand broke his confidentiality agreement with B&W and agreed to work with CBS’s 60 Minutes on a tobacco industry story. Over the next several months, Wigand worked closely with the 60 Minutes producers to reveal the truth about the cigarette industry. Finally, on 4 February, 1996, Wigand famously was interviewed personally by 60 Minutes and made public attacks on the tobacco industry based on his experiences.
Overnight, Wigand became a household name and set the bar for other whistleblowers.
But Wigand’s decision didn’t come without a heavy price.
After his public appearance, Wigand became the face of opposition against the tobacco industry’s lies. From then on, the industry would stop at nothing to deliver their retribution.
According to personal testimony, Wigand was personally and physically harassed by agents of B&W along with frequent death threats. B&W eventually released a smear campaign against him, which depicted him as a raging alcoholic, a pathological liar, and an abusive husband. Soon enough, Wigand was divorced and had indeed turned into an alcoholic. It would be years before he got help and came to terms with the consequences of his brave sacrifice.
For bravery, and for exposing such hidden secrets of the tobacco industry, Jeffrey Wigand will go down as “one of the most daring and important whistleblowers of all time” . Like Williams before him, Wigand’s work led to the establishment of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement - considered by many to be the largest blow to Big Tobacco in history.