Dr. Wigand Shares His Experience As a “Person of Conscience”

Last week, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand joined us in a second-story Rayburn hearing room for the fourth installment of the Whistleblower Film Series. The evening’s film, The Insider, told the story of Dr. Wigand’s struggle to unveil the truth about the tobacco industry’s internal knowledge on the addictive nature of cigarettes.

Dr. Wigand had worked as Vice President for Research and Development for Brown & Williamson, one of the tobacco giants that claimed they believed that cigarettes were not addictive. In fact, not only was Dr. Wigand’s employer aware of the addictive properties of nicotine, but they deliberately tried to enhance these properties in order to create a product with a higher “impact” on its customers. This practice contradicted testimony by Brown & Williamson’s own CEO at a congressional hearing.

Like most of the whistleblowers highlighted in the film series, Dr. Wigand faced a difficult road: death threats, the prospect of losing health insurance for a daughter with acute asthma and the rest of his family, a potential stint in jail, and a news magazine program with cold feet — not to mention the emotional stress put on the Wigand household — might have a silenced others in his shoes.

During the question and answer period that followed the screening, Dr. Wigand encouraged any potential “persons of conscience” (preferring that term to “whistleblowers”) to stand up for what they believe in, even if it means going up against a seemingly unbeatable foe (after all, he was eventually eventually able to conquer the odds).

But while Dr. Wigand’s  vigor and courage are truly inspiring, his experience once again underscores the need for increased whistleblower protections. At another point in the discussion, Dr. Wigand mentioned that were it not for help from an outstanding team of attorneys, his chances for success would have been much lower. Unfortunately, not every person of conscience has a “perfect storm” of legal assistance to sling at their Goliath. And until we implement stronger whistleblower protections we can hardly expect every person of conscience to take Dr. Wigand’s advice and go for it.

We’ll learn more tonight, as the Whistleblower Film Series culminates 6:30 P.M. with the Washington, D.C. premiere of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers at the Capitol Visitor Center. Earlier in the week, we asked attendees to RSVP — unfortunately, due to overwhelming interest, we have a full house and there are no longer any empty seats.  We’ll let you know how it goes.

— Bryan Rahija

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