Ex-Tobacco Exec Speaks On Industry
Jeffrey Wigand, the tobacco industry whistle-blower and subject of the movie "The Insider," emphasized the importance of being honest and the dark side of smoking in a speech Thursday evening.
More than 100 students and faculty attended the event in Union Auditorium as part of Honor and Integrity Week.
Sponsored by the judicial branch of student government, the five-day event is designed to increase the awareness among students about the UNC honor system.
The former executive at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation made clear the message that erosion of integrity needs to be ended. "It is not easy to be ethical," Wigand said.
Wigand broke a company confidentiality agreement to expose the harmful way his company was making cigarettes to make them more addictive.
"I had a moral responsibility toward a process that would change a life," he said.
As a top researcher for Brown & Williamson, he thought his job was to make cigarettes less dangerous for smokers and to reduce the effects of second-hand smoke.
He continued his research even as he began to realize that the company was working directly opposite of his goal.
Wigand said he wished he had exposed the truth earlier. "I know I made a mistake. I chose silence -- I was comfortable with silence," he said.
But his duty to care didn't keep him quiet for too long.
He went public with his inside information to the CBS television news magazine "60 Minutes." Wigand said someone needed to step in and expose the lack of honesty, honor and virtue in the tobacco industry.
Lola Stamm, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology who was at the speech, said Wigand was an inspiration.
"What he did might encourage people from all aspects, whether workers or executives, to speak out," she said.
Since he exposed the truth, Wigand has worked to inform people about the negative effects of smoking.
"Three thousand children a day, as young as 11 and 12, are getting addicted to tobacco," he said.
Today, Wigand is an elementary school teacher who takes pleasure in educating fourth- and fifth-graders. He said his struggle to educate people about the importance of integrity and honesty is ongoing.
Wrapping up his speech, he urged students to "embrace virtue and honor and take it wherever you go."