It is with great pleasure, and sincere humility, I post this recent interview I conducted on Sunday evening with my all-time favorite interview - Dr. Jeffrey Wigand.
In 1996, Dr. Wigand was the key witness and chief whistleblower in the landmark case against "big tobacco" that resulted in a $246 billion settlement. He went through absolute hell to call out the industry. His story was the inspiration for the film, "The Insider" which this week is being released on BluRay.
Why would this doctor agree to chat with me for this sad little blog? Because he is a smart man, and because I'm a big fan.
Of all the people I have ever had the pleasure to interview - and I bugged the hell out of this guy in late 2000 for an interview, which he granted me for one hour at a Starbucks in Plano, Texas - few have ever displayed more courage and determination than Wigand.
At that time in 2000, Dr. Wigand had ventured out on his own as a speaker against tobacco, and a man who would speak of its dangers to anyone who would listen. He speaks to schools, colleges, and now works closely with health administrators around the world.
He remains a one-man band of bad news against tobacco. In our conversation in 2000, he did not express much optimism at being able to make much of a dent in places such as Europe or Asia. Today, thanks in part to his efforts to educate the masses, even Europe is becoming an increasingly a smoke-free zone.
In 2007, he experienced a scary issue with his spine that forced him to be on an oxygen tank and mostly bed ridden for a year. Eventually he got back at it, and now uses a cane to walk, and has cut back his travel. Some.
Big Mac Blog: Do you ever watch the movie again?
Dr. Wigand: Are you kidding me, Mac? Do I watch that movie? Why would I go through that emotional upheaval by watching it? I don't do it.
Big Mac Blog: Has any retired tobacco executive ever reached out to you to say, "Sorry", or anything at all?
Dr. Wigand: Nope. They don't need me and I don't need them. They're racketeers.
Big Mac Blog: Did you ever develop a relationship with (the late) 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace?
Dr. Wigand: We became close and had a very substanial relationship. I was at the Mayo Clinic when I got the news he died. Every time (he and his wife) went to New York we had dinner with Mike and his wife.
Big Mac Blog: Do you still get death threats?
Dr. Wigand: Oh yeah. The last one was November 14, 2012. I had to jump on the Department of Justice to do something. I had to call Henry Waxman.
Big Mac Blog: Looking back on it, did you ever think that all of that would lead to so much change?
Dr. Wigand: No, there was no way to predict this. I knew I was going to make a dent. I knew from a litigative point of view I was going to stick it to them. The settlement was monumental. It was June 21, 1996; that was three years after Brown and Williamson fired me. I never thought Congress would have the (man parts) to take on the tobacco industry and to throw their PAC money back at them.
Big Mac Blog: What prompted the type of anti-smoking change in this country, and world-wide?
Dr. Wigand: Well, things have changed. Not as fast as I would like, and not as fast as public health advocates would like. We are educating more and more. Getting things to change in this country ... I do more work overseas now. I can get more work done in Canada and in Europe. I work with the Dutch government now. The Smoke-Free Venice started with kids. In Japan, as they prepare for the Olympics, I'm working with them on smoke free zones. All I do is catalyze action.
Big Mac Blog: Did you agree or see the parallel about the class action case against fast food that uses the case against tobacco in a similar fashion?
Dr. Wigand: I don’t know how many McDonald’s burgers have killed 10 million people. Currently half a million people die each year that don’t have to die (as a result of tobacco). It starts with children.
I get called a lot to testify in cases, and I don't do everything that comes my way. If the cause of action is not to make money for lawyers but to change perception against the tobacco industry, I'm along for the ride. ... If the industry can't maintain addiction they can't sell cigarettes.
Big Mac Blog: Now what else?
Dr. Wigand: I'm on the board of education. I'm an elected official.
Big Mac Blog: How is that?
Dr. Wigand: It sucks. You have no power or authority except with consensus. And you know how I deal with that.
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