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Battling Big Tobacco

Jeffrey Wigand was the maverick insider who - at what he considered was great personal risk to himself and his family - blew the whistle on big tobacco.

Back in 1995, he exposed the lies we'd all been told for decades about cigarettes: about their capacity to addict us, about their capacity to kill us.

Since then, he's literally changed the air we breathe. But, in an interview with Correspondent Mike Wallace 10 years ago, Wigand became the first major tobacco insider to reveal that the cigarette companies were consciously trying to get us hooked on nicotine.

"We're in a nicotine delivery business," he said. "It's a delivery device for nicotine. …You'll get your fix."

What Wigand told Wallace eventually inspired a movie, "The Insider," with Russell Crowe playing the lead role. Wigand told 60 Minutes that his employer, Brown & Williamson, manipulated that nicotine fix -- not by adding nicotine, but by enhancing its effect by putting dangerous additives like ammonia into cigarettes.

"There's extensive use of this technology which is called ammonia chemistry that allows for nicotine to be more rapidly absorbed in the lungs, and therefore, affect the brain and central nervous system," said Wigand.

Of course, what Wigand said was big news at the time — a tobacco executive blowing the whistle on his employer. The problem for 60 Minutes was that we couldn't broadcast what he said on the show. Back then, CBS management feared that Brown & Williamson might sue for as much as $15 billion – not for telling the truth, but for inducing Wigand to break his strict confidentiality agreement with Brown & Williamson.

Nonetheless, Wigand chose to go public, and recently told Wallace what he went through back then, when instead of airing his interview, we'd left him hanging.

"I was disappointed. I was disappointed that the industry had succeeded again in intimidation, particularly freedom of the press," said Wigand. "I think it hurt 60 Minutes. I think it hurt probably you personally, OK, because you were identified with it. And may have tainted your reputation. I felt bad for that."

But he was about to feel worse, because word of what he'd said leaked out, and Brown & Williamson wanted his head.

"And that created havoc. I was sued. I had to have bodyguards," he said. "And it became a media frenzy, so to speak."

A lot of America saw that media frenzy reenacted in the movie. Because of Wigand's fears, CBS agreed to pay for his bodyguards, plus millions for his legal fees when Brown & Williamson sued him.

Then, The Wall Street Journal printed much of what Wigand had told us, and that took 60 Minutes off the hook. No longer fearing a lawsuit, our bosses finally allowed us to broadcast Wigand's accusations.

End of story. But not for Wigand. He was just warming up.

First of all, he gave crucial testimony that helped the states win a $368 billion settlement from the tobacco industry — money the states had spent to treat the diseases caused by smoking.

"We wanted to do something that would punish this industry," said Mississippi state Attorney Gen. Mike Moore.

As part of the settlement, Brown & Williamson dropped its lawsuit against Wigand, freeing him to tell all he knows about the dangers of smoking. And what began as an interview on 60 Minutes has now become his life's work.

Wigand has spearheaded efforts to ban smoking in public places. He's gone from town to town, and state to state to establish smoke-free zones, starting in New York City.

He's worked with New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and legions of legislators to restrict smoking and to remove the dangers of secondhand smoke.

He says he's been a driving force in getting smoking outlawed in restaurants and public office buildings all across the United States. "They're not permitted to kill another human being," says Wigand. "Simple. Straightforward."

He's also worked with legislators in states such as Delaware, Florida and Maine, to make those states smoke free.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island … The list of smoke-free states keeps growing. And now Wigand has taken his campaign beyond cities and states – beyond the United States – to countries around the world, from South Korea to India to Ireland.

By now, legislators in Sweden, Norway, and New Zealand have worked with Wigand to outlaw smoking in public buildings. But his biggest success, he says, is up in Canada, where he helped spearhead a far-reaching campaign that put graphic warning pictures on all cigarette packs, doubled the price of cigarettes and banned most tobacco advertising.

Canada's former health minister, Alan Rock, told 60 Minutes that Wigand's work was vital: "He provided many of the ideas. He provided a lot of the energy. But perhaps more than anything else, he gave us a certain public momentum we might not otherwise have had. By lending his name and his good reputation to the cause."

Did Canada pay Wigand to do this?

"Yes, he was on a very modest contract," says Rock. "But I think his motivation more than anything else was to work with a group of people who believed, as he did, that something had to be done about the tobacco industry."

"Canada's smoking rate has gone from roughly 24 percent of the country to 17 percent," says Wigand.

"I get the sense, Dr. Wigand, that you're gloating," says Wallace.

"No, I'm not gloating. I believe that this industry, that they need to be held accountable," says Wigand. "They could've told people in the beginning about nicotine in the '50s. ... They could have told them their light and mild cigarettes were just as dangerous, if not more dangerous. And many of the things they have done is to put in harm's way human beings for money."

And now, the country's biggest cigarette maker, Phillip Morris, is warning people in their ads about the dangers of smoking.

Phillip Morris declined to talk to 60 Minutes about Wigand, but he called their ads a smokescreen.

"And they're right back to their same old tricks. So they're spending more money and they're telling the world they're better people — they're more humane," says Wigand. "Yet, if you look at where the money comes from, it comes from selling tobacco products."

Selling tobacco is legal, of course, to people 18 and over. But according to the federal government, the vast majority of smokers start smoking before they're 18. And Wigand continues speaking at schools across the country, trying to persuade America's kids never to begin to smoke.

He also starred in an anti-smoking tape that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has sent to thousands of schools.

Wigand complains that most states are squandering the billions he helped them win from big tobacco. He says the states were supposed to spend 20 percent of their windfall to discourage kids from smoking. But he says only a handful of states have done so, and that infuriates him.

"I think that's moral treason. They've essentially taken the money they receive from the tobacco industry and have actually used it for other issues other than preventing tobacco use among our children," says Wigand.

But he says that Florida did it right, by spending $71 million of its tobacco settlement money to create an effective ad campaign. According to Florida's Department of Health, cut student smoking by 30-50 percent.

The problem is, in order to save money, Florida abandoned the campaign. And now, Wigand says, student smoking is back on the rise.

"You begin to come across as a self-righteous true believer," says Wallace.

"I believe there's a wrong being done," says Wigand. "I believe I have the capacity and the knowledge to help right some wrong. And I want to do that. Now, you want to call it self-righteous. I want to call it passion."

But passion has its price. Wigand had earned $300,000 a year working for tobacco. Now, he makes $60,000 working against it. He says the stress from going public led his wife to divorce him. But today, his daughters love him for what he's doing — and he loves doing it.

"I don't think I've been this happy in a long time. I mean, I enjoy what I do, and I'm comfortable with myself," says Wigand. "Every day, I know I've something that makes a difference for another human being. And that makes you feel good."

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