Tobacco whistle-blower critical of how some states spend settlement money
There are many sides to Jeffrey Wigand.
Jeffrey Wigand on the tobacco trade: "They are the only industry in this country that does not have standards of regulatory approval. ... This industry is surviving by duping children." (July 31, 2002)(Renee C. Byer/Seattle Post-Intelligencer)To Congress and the public, he's the whistle-blower whose testimony stripped the veil of secrecy from a tobacco industry that long operated outside scrutiny.
Today at the Madison Renaissance Hotel in Seattle, Wigand is both teacher and advocate, as the keynote speaker at the seventh annual National Prevention Symposium.
Wigand, an ardent supporter of tobacco education and prevention for youths, will address 250 health educators from across the nation on several issues, notably the use of billions of dollars of money received from settlements with the seven major tobacco companies.
"(States) are taking money that may be used to help benefit the futures of children and are giving those up to solve short-term problems," Wigand said in an interview yesterday.
Wigand became involved with tobacco prevention and education following his testimony against the industry, which spearheaded a $246 billion settlement between cigarette manufacturers and 39 states.
Wigand, former vice president for research and development for Brown & Williamson, one of the major tobacco companies, was the subject of the 1999 film "The Insider." Russell Crowe played the former tobacco executive.
"They are the only industry in this country that does not have standards of regulatory approval," Wigand said. "... This industry is surviving by duping children."
Wigand cites facts he's culled from the Centers for Disease Control: The number of people in the United States who die each year from tobacco-related causes is 430,000. Tobacco is five times more addictive than cocaine or heroin. The percentage of smokers who started smoking before age 18 is 90 percent. The number of 11- and 12-year-old children who become addicted each year is 3,000.
"You are essentially robbing an adult from having the capacity to make a decision," Wigand said.
At today's symposium, sponsored by the Seattle-based Comprehensive Health Education Foundation, Wigand will also address just what states are doing with the money received from their settlements.
"The responsibility rests with legislatures and governors," Wigand said. "They are letting urgency over short-term financial concerns affect the long-term health of children."
The minimum that should be spent on education and prevention funding in Washington state is $33 million annually, or about $5.94 per person, Wigand said, citing CDC numbers. The state's actual average is $3.08 per person.
Since the state began receiving the first of 25 annual payments in 1999, it has received a little over $666 million. Only $73 million has gone to tobacco education and prevention, nearly half of the spending recommended by the CDC.
"Many states simply aren't doing a good job," Wigand said. "What would these states do about their (budget) shortfalls without the tobacco funding?"
Wigand's main impetus is to see this trend turn around. Only three states will meet the CDC's annual funding recommendation next fiscal year.
Washington will spend $26 million, but the bulk of that money will come form the state's excise tax on tobacco.
"We can stop preventable diseases," Wigand said.
"You can stop someone from getting AIDS. You can teach kids about it. You can do the same thing with tobacco."