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'The Insider' Is Back

A tobacco company executive-turned-whistle-blower testified Monday that his former firm's executives spent years misleading the public about the dangers of smoking. Company lawyers attacked Jeffrey Wigand's credibility, saying he has profited from testifying against cigarette makers.

Wigand testified for the federal government, which contends the industry engaged in a five-decade conspiracy to deceive the public about the health hazards of cigarettes. The government is seeking $280 billion, which it describes as the amount the companies made through fraudulent activities.

Wigand, who worked for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. from 1989 to 1993, said company executives knew nicotine was addictive, despite assertions to the contrary, and manipulated nicotine levels in cigarettes to ensure smokers remained hooked.

"We understood at Brown & Williamson that every cigarette we made was manipulated to make sure that it delivered enough nicotine to keep smokers addicted," he testified.

For nearly a decade, he has been testifying against the tobacco industry. His disclosures during a 60 Minutes interview and subsequent deposition in 1995 inspired "The Insider," a 1999 Oscar-nominated film about a tobacco industry whistleblower.

Seeking to discredit Wigand, Brown & Williamson lawyer David Bernick pointed to inaccuracies in past testimony. In 1995, for example, Wigand testified that the company had used rat poison in a brand of its pipe tobacco, believing it enhanced flavor.

Wigand acknowledged that was "technically misleading," but said the ingredient - coumarin - is a precursor to a substance used as rat poison.

Bernick also contended Wigand has benefited from regularly testifying in tobacco trials. Though Wigand said he has made less than $100,000 for his work on tobacco litigation, Bernick noted that trial lawyers have donated about $2 million to Smoke Free Kids, a nonprofit organization Wigand started in 1998.

Since his initial 60 Minutes interview, 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.

Wigand 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,"

. "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.

The trial, which comes six years after the states reached settlements worth $246 billion with the industry to recoup the cost of treating sick smokers, is in its fifth month in U.S. District Court and probably will continue for several more months.

The Justice Department is pursuing the case using a 1970 civil racketeering statute originally designed to prosecute mobsters. To win, the government must show the industry still is acting fraudulently or is likely to do so in the future.

Earlier testimony has focused on whether tobacco companies marketed products to children and whether tobacco companies are playing down the dangers posed by secondhand smoke.

In direct testimony filed before his court appearance and during Monday's proceeding, Wigand alleged that some policies at Brown & Williamson were driven by knowledge of the dangers posed by cigarette smoking and the potential litigation the company might face.

For example, the company stopped an internal research project into safer cigarettes because an executive was concerned such a project could be used in potential future lawsuits against the company "and would play into the hands of an adversary," Wigand said. Executives also feared that if the company produced a safer cigarette it would imply the standard product was unsafe and provide a long-denied link between smoking and health problems, he said.

The research continued at sister companies in England and Canada.

Wigand also alleged that Brown & Williamson explored using ammonia-based additives in its cigarettes to magnify nicotine's impact on a smoker. But in court, Bernick said studies found the additives affected cigarettes' taste.

The defendants in the lawsuit are: Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Liggett Group Inc.; Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A.; and the Tobacco Institute.

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