Tobacco whistle-blower continues to sound alarms
FAIRBORN | He doesnâ€™t wear tights or a cape. There are no horns sprouting under his snowy white hair, but most consider Jeffrey Wigand either hero or villain. The former tobacco executive who revealed the industryâ€™s disregard for public health now use
And, heâ€™s fierce about protecting kids from tobacco addiction.
"There are no free rides. The earlier you start, the more damage itâ€™s going to do," Wigand said. "Every cigarette you smoke takes 11 seconds off your life. (The tobacco industry) wants to get kids early and they want to keep them until they die."
On Friday morning, Wigand spoke to Wright State University medical students, then met in the afternoon with students from Fairbornâ€™s Baker Junior High School. Today, he will speak at a free seminar that is open to the public at the Frederick A. White Health Center on the WSU campus.
Itâ€™s been eight years since Wigandâ€™s whistle-blowing cost the tobacco industry $246 billion in no-strings-attached litigation settlements with the government to be spread over 25 years. His ordeal was featured in the motion picture, The Insider.
"All of it was very unethical andthat unethical behavior was stealing peopleâ€™s lives," Wigand said. "To watch my boss (on television) go before Congress and say nicotine was not addictive, that smoking was no more harmful than eating Twinkies, if I had done nothing, I would have been just as guilty as those guys who were on my screen that day."
Wigand had a grim message for Ohioans: "Ohio is faltering right now."
Ohioâ€™s smoking rate is 5 percent greater and its death rate from lung cancer is 3 percent higher than the national median, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, the money from the tobacco settlement that Ohio spends on education has decreased by 39 percent since 2000, Wigand said.
"Part of my talk today is to get these people to realize the need to keep that money protected," he said. "Originally, your governor said he was going to protect it and then came the budget crunch. Todayâ€™s problems should not preclude tomorrowâ€™s vision."
Wigand said health care professionals have not been aggressive in bringing about change.
"I am somewhat bothered by people who feel they have no time to go help prevent, they only have time to heal," Wigand said. "I understand the demands, but this is something that can dramatically change the composition of health care."
Wright State University Medical School has taken a leadership role in the state by offering tobacco awareness programs for medical school students and alumni, he said.
Wigand said he experimented with cigarettes at 16, but his mother stopped him. At age 44, when he was hired by Brown & Williamson to create a safer cigarette, Wigand thought it a good idea to use the product.
"I stopped smoking when I read in their own documents what they werenâ€™t sharing with the rest of the world," he said. "It can take as little as one cigarette to become addicted. Itâ€™s a substance that is five times more addictive than cocaine."
Wigand said there is hope for tobacco addicts, but they have to be willing to take that first step.
The first step is to see a doctor to be weaned from the addition with nicotine replacement therapy; a drug associated with the treatment of depression also is needed, Wigand said. The physical addiction of touching, holding and lighting up a cigarette also must be conquered.
This regime, which can be prescribed by any doctor, has a 52 percent success rate, he said.
"Itâ€™s never, ever too late to stop."