Inside The Insider

Report on a public lecture by Dr Jeffrey Wigand at the University of California Davis. (Dr Wigand is a health consultant to the Canadian government. He was a former top research scientist at the Brown & Williamson tobacco company and was recently featured in the movie The Insider,  nominated for Best Picture in the 2000 Academy Awards.)


Dear Friends,

             Greetings to one and all from the state of California in America. If you have been following the news here, you would have noticed the single issue occupying most of the headlines – the 2,000 Presidential Nominations. However, there has been another interesting event stealing some of the limelight – this year’s Oscar Nominations.

             One could ask why I would want to write about the Oscars rather than on the hot favourite topic of elections. Well, it is because I had a personal encounter with a difficult question during a recent lecture: “Would I throw my family to the winds?” What made this question interesting is that it was asked by a person who had faced a similar dilemma – a certain Dr Jeffrey Wigand, probably known best as the “whistle-blower” who uncovered earth-shattering information about the tobacco industry, and who was also featured in the movie The Insider, currently nominated for Best Picture in this year’s Academy Awards. Dr Wigand had to endure death threats against his family and severe public scrutiny after an interview with 60 Minutes, which revealed the tobacco industry’s disregard for public health and safety. 

            Addressing a packed lecture at the University of California in Davis, the former top research scientist said he could not come to terms with Brown & Williamson’s decision to continue selling a product that had been found to contain a cancer-causing chemical. The tobacco company had decided to leave the product in the shelf until it could find a substitute. This decision angered Dr Wigand, who refused to endorse such a move, and was fired from his job three weeks later as a result. 

Dr Wigand’s interview with 60 Minutes earned the wrath of his former employers, who were one of the giants in the tobacco industry, and he was subsequently sued for breaching a “confidentiality agreement” with the company. In addition, Dr Wigand suffered tremendous emotional and psychological pain, which was not lessened by his wife’s serving of divorce papers during their wedding anniversary.

     “What do you do with what you know – that’s a fundamental ethical question. I didn’t want my family exposed; I didn’t want to be at the short end of the stick. But somewhere along the line you’ve got to take a stand.”

Dr Wigand’s brave response resulted in the tobacco industry’s subsequent admission that smoking causes cancer, which led to the historic 1997 financial settlement between the industry and the Attorney Generals of 40 US states. It was also a momentous event in that it was the first time a lawsuit by the industry had been dismissed by the courts.

Addressing The Insider’s portrayal of the issue, Dr Wigand admitted that it was a drama based on factual information, but not a documentary. Consequently, the timing of events was different, but the movie was true to the “philosophy, emotions and psychology” of real life. For instance, the scene at the driving range did not really happen, but there were genuine feelings of being menaced and followed. It was also true that Dr Wigand had been followed by an ex-FBI agent hired by Brown & Williamson.

“I’ve to tell you – the one thing I’ve learnt from this whole issue since 1993, is that the truth will not change itself over time, even when everything else changes. If it wasn’t for truth, I’m not so sure I’ll be talking here today.” Dr Wigand noted that his “moral compass” helped him make the difficult decisions to face the truth. “That was the right thing to do – I can look at the mirror today; I can’t say that for sure 5 years ago, 6 years ago, 10 years ago…. But I have no regrets.”

 Returning to the question if I could “throw my family to the winds” – I tried to stall Dr Wigand by replying that it was a difficult question to answer. However, when pressed for a response, I had to concede that I could not sacrifice my family for such ideals. Maybe this is why someone like Jeffrey Wigand really stands out among the faces in the crowd – he was prepared to stand up for his beliefs and uphold the truth no matter how great the costs were. And in my opinion, that is more important than who wins the primary nominations in New Hampshire, South Carolina or even California.

Best Regards,


 After leaving Brown & Williamson, Dr Wigand taught Japanese and Science in a high school in Louisville, Kentucky. He was awarded the Sallie Mae First Class Teacher of the Year in 1996 and was appointed health consultant to the Canadian government in 1999. More information about Dr Wigand can be obtained at


The above article was written by Mark Lim Shan-Loong on 17th February 2000. It was originally intended to appear in The Ridge, a publication of the National University of Singapore Students' Union.


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