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Whistle-blower decries way settlement money being spent

By Ed Brock

There's no free lunch when you're listening to teacher and former research scientist for the tobacco industry Dr. Jeffrey Wigand.

He expects his audience to learn at least five facts from his lectures on the evils of the tobacco industry and to teach those facts to five other people.

"My focus isn't on cessation, but on prevention," Wigand said to an audience of Southern Regional Medical Center employees and others during the hospital's monthly "Lunch and Learn" session.

Wigand's stand against the tobacco industry was made famous by the Disney movie "The Insider" in which he was played by Russell Crowe. But before that he had to endure extraordinary strife when, shortly after leaving his job as vice president for research and development at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation in 1993, he decided to reveal the industry's secrets to the world.

He did just that in an interview on the CBS news show "60 Minutes" after which he was sued by Brown & Williamson on the basis that he had violated a non-disclosure agreement he made with the company. That lawsuit was dismissed in the June 20, 1997 settlement between the attorney's general of 40 states and the tobacco industry.

Those secrets Wigand continues to reveal include the industries targeting of poor people, minorities, people with limited education and children through an advertising campaign on which they spend $6.7 billion annually.

"More of our girls today are lighting up earlier," Wigand said. "The industry targets children who are at risk ? they're 9 or 10 years old and already addicted."

They add between 4,000 and 8,000 chemicals to tobacco that are so dangerous they can't be dumped in a landfill, including ammonia that is used to accelerate the delivery of nicotine to the brain.

Members of the tobacco industry are "ethically and morally disabled," Wigand said.

"I personally watched lawyers physically change documents that could have saved lives," Wigand said.

Other major issues Wigand addressed include the states' use of money from the more than $20 billion Massive Settlement Agreement made in that 1997 settlement and the failure of Congress to regulate the tobacco industry.

"They've used the inheritance of your children and your children's children and used it for everything else except what it's supposed to be used for," Wigand said about the use of MSA money.

The money is supposed to be used for education programs to keep children from smoking but instead is used to build roads or other projects, Wigand said. He pointed out that Georgia in particular has not implemented such educational programs and criticized Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker for arguing that the Philip Morris Company should be given special consideration and allowed to lower the amount of money they paid the state.

And though the industry "cries out for regulation" Congress has done nothing to restrict the industry.

Wigand also talked about the dangers of Environmental Tobacco Smoke and the need for laws such as the one he is trying to pass in Charleston, S.C., where he lives, that would make public places in the city smoke-free.

"You may have a right to smoke, but that right should not impinge on the flourishment of another person," Wigand said.

Wigand's speech had an impact on Ann Lane of Morrow, a member of SRMC's "Mall Walkers" group, whose 55-year-old husband Freddie Lane has been smoking since he was 16.

"He's said he's slowed down but I don't think so," Lane said. "I'm going to go home and tell him what I learned."

Joe and Lucy Dukes of Morrow, also Mall Walkers, said they also found Wigand's presentation informative although Joe Dukes gave another reason for having quit the habit 15 years ago.

"My granddaughter. She had some breathing problems and she didn't like the smell, so I quit," Dukes said.

The Clayton County Health Department also sponsored Wigand's appearance at SRMC and at North Clayton High School Thursday morning.

More information on Wigand can be found at www.jeffreywigand.com.