Once upon a time, before the lead up to the 1998 Master Settlement with Big Tobacco, being a whistleblower against the industry was big news, and risky business. In fact, before that monumental agreement, Big Tobacco won every legal case thrown at them. Thankfully, that tide has changed, and what follows are posts highlighting those brave souls who went face-to-face with their former employer and helped changed history for the better.
Merrell Williams Jr.
The previous day, the B&W CEO, along with six other Tobacco CEOs swore under oath to Congress that nicotine was not addiction.
Not only did Williams’ discovery disprove their blatant fraud, but it revealed far more nefarious coverups like the use of freon (the chemical used by refrigerators) to make the tobacco’s texture more appealing. When smoked, the substance turns into nerve gas.
From 1988 until a monumental trail in 1994, Williams was repeatedly harassed by his former employers - enduring stressful smear campaigns and legal strong-arming. Thankfully, Williams did not bend under the stress, and he helped pave the way for other whistleblowers and activists to come forward and begin speaking out.
When the Master Settlement Agreement was signed in 1998, many touted it as a victory for justice, and particularly for Williams. However, Williams remained concerned for years afterwards - feeling that the hundreds of billions of dollars paid by Big Tobacco only benefited the lawyers and states that took part in the prosecution. Moreover, he felt that Big Tobacco remained just as powerful and commanded an equally massive empire as before - losing merely pocket change in the grand scheme of things.
On November 18th, 2013, Merrell Williams Jr. died at the age of 72 following a heart attack - likely relating to his former history of smoking.
While Williams may not have felt like a game changer, there is no doubt that his bravery to bring Big Tobacco to justice was the first step in the torrent of allegations that occurred throughout the years since.