Philippe Boucher's Rendez Vous Jeffrey Wigand
By Philippe Boucher
Rendez-vous with Jeffrey Wigand
Tuesday, March 2, 1999
Thank you Jeffrey for accepting our "rendez-vous."
May I first ask you to introduce yourself?
I was born in New York City in 1942. I attended the State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences where I obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1973.
Prior to joining Brown & Williamson I held senior management positions with a number of leading health care companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Merck.
>From December 1988 to March 1993 I served as Vice-president for Research and Development for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, owned by London based BAT.
After my separation from Brown & Williamson I cooperated with governmental agencies investigating the tobacco industry in early 1994, in particular the FDA.
I recently created a nonprofit organization, Smoke-Free Kids to continue and expand my efforts to reduce teen smoking.
First question: Your itinerary is unique: from Brown and Williamson to Smoke-Free Kids. Can you tell us -a little-about it?
When I was hired by Brown and Williamson to become their head scientist it was on the premises that we were going to try to develop a safer cigarette.
I progressively realized it was impossible. At first I was just surprised then annoyed by the interference of the lawyers in my work. Memos had to be submitted to lawyers. Their editing could be heavy, more like censorship: a 15 pages strategic plan was reduced to 3 pages!
Sometimes documents were "for eyes only" and had to be immediately destroyed for fear of discovery during litigation in the US.
This was not my conception of science: science for me was a quest for truth. For them it was a way to distort the facts.
They manipulated science to create confusion and controversy.
After 4 years I had to leave, even if this decision involved serious consequences for me.
2. Not everybody is aware of what you went through. Can you give us some precisions -if you don¥t mind?ó
Harassment took many forms: anonymous threats, a letter with a bullet inside, phone calls, people escorted me and the children to school, work, play, etc.,
at one point I had two bodyguards!
Of course a lawsuit was filed against me for "breach of a confidentiality agreement and theft of trade secrets."
My whole life was scrutinized and every effort made to try to discredit me.
The lawsuit and injunction were dismissed as a condition of the June 20, 1998, historic settlement between the Attorneys General and the tobacco industry.
Still I have no regrets about going public even if I went through very difficult times.
I wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror. I could not explain to my children why I was working in a tobacco company.
Watching on TV in April 94 the main tobacco chief executives lie under oath in Congress I felt compelled to speak up the truth or be like the men on my screen.
3. In the just published issue of Tobacco Control there is an article you wrote about cigarette testing methods and how the industry has known for a long time that those tests did not reflect the way smokers smoke. Can you elaborate on that?
The first filtered cigarette was introduced in 1936. It was positioned as "a mild, clean smoke with health benefits resulting from filtration". So the claim has always been that filtered cigarette smoke was "better for your health".
Even more so after the first report of the US Surgeon General on smoking and health in 1964.
The current FTC method was developed with significant industry input. It understates the deliveries from ventilated filtered cigarettes by as much as 80% of what the smoker can actually obtain. The deliveries printed on the packaging or communicated through the ads are gravely misleading to the consumer.
The industry has known about the shortcomings of these methods for years. For instance the industry has known since the early 1970¥s that smoker compensation occurs when a smoker using a low-tar delivery product
"compensates" for the low nicotine delivery by smoking more cigarettes, with deeper puff volumes and longer puff durations, an effect not replicated on any machine.
That¥s 30 years of silence, of "cover up" when the industry researchers were even postulating that "the effect of switching to a low tar cigarette may be to increase, not decrease, the risks of smoking."
4. What the smokers and the public at large think about cigarettes is therefore very far from the truth?
It is what I try to explain to kids when I go to schools to speak to them about tobacco. I don¥t try to preach to them about the risks to their health, I tell them how the industry manipulates them and the lies the industry want them to believe.
It is quite an eye opening exercise for young kids but I have seen many adults and tobacco control specialists appalled by what I explain to them.
The cigarette manufacturers have convinced the public that a cigarette is a very simple and natural product:
nothing but tobacco leaf grown in the ground and wrapped paper.
This is far from what actually happens.
At every step from tobacco growing and leaf blending to cigarette design and manufacture very sophisticated technologies are used to carefully control the nicotine dose the smoker will get.
Cigarettes are meticulously engineered products to that effect: delivering nicotine.
5. We read recently an article in the Baltimore Sun (Le plat du jour Feb 17) about "fire safe" cigarettes and how the tobacco industry blocked and still opposes every attempt to bring changes in this matter. Do you have an opinion about that?
The industry and particularly Philip Morris have been working on the "fire safe" cigarette for almost 40 years and they always contended it was
I know that Philip Morris had devised as early as 1993 a "fire safe cigarette" that was totally acceptable.
It was tested with Marlboros and the "fire safe" was accepted by customers like the original Marlboro on every account.
The only difference was that it was "fire safe."
The company decided not to go ahead with this new design unless they were forced to by the government.
Every year in the US, 10,000 to 15,000 kids die in cigarette induced fires.
What you feel like adding:
I wish I could participate into the creation of a sophisticated up to date laboratory where all the tobacco products could be tested to provide relevant information and help devise adequate regulations.
I figure the cost of such a project would be around $4 million so I hope a University is interested and can bring together the necessary funding.
I also would like to have more means for my educational projects.
I devised curricula with FSU for schools in Florida but there is still so much to do.
I hope I can also find people and institutions to help me help the kids understand what cigarettes and tobacco products and the tobacco industry are really like, how their use leads to a horrific life of addiction, suffering and ultimately death.
I wish for a state of the art center of excellence in tobacco education combining science and prevention.
We made progress but not nearly enough.
Make no mistake: even after what looks like defeats the tobacco industry is stronger than ever before.
To break this cycle it has to be constantly monitored and watched.
The fight just begun.
Thank you Jeffrey for taking the time to be with us today.
Prepared by Philippe Boucher mailto:IslandErsk@aol.com
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