FOR the tobacco industry, Jeffrey Wigand may be the smoking gun.
Mr. Wigand is a former senior executive who ran a tobacco
giant's research and development department for four years. Now his
attorney says Wigand is willing to tell judges and juries what his
former employer knows about the effects of cigarettes.
The prospect of Wigand testifying around the country, in what
could be one of the most important whistle-blower cases yet to
surface against the tobacco industry, has resulted in a flurry of
legal actions. Yesterday, however, Wigand showed up in Pascagoula,
Miss., and began talking.
His testimony followed a state judge's ruling in Mississippi on
Tuesday that Wigand must tell federal and state officials what he
knows about his former employer, Brown & Williamson (B&W) Tobacco
Co., a division of B.A.T. Industries Plc.
Yesterday morning, Wigand was questioned by the FBI, who wanted
to talk to him as part of a Justice Department investigation into
whether the tobacco companies conspired to hinder the development
of a cigarette that was less likely to start fires.
On Monday, B&W obtained a restraining order in Louisville, Ky.,
to prevent Wigand from violating a confidentiality agreement he
signed two years ago. Wigand agreed not to divulge any of the
company's secrets or "disparage the reputation" of the company or
its products. The agreement requires that he give the company a
meaningful opportunity to meet with him before testifying. But
yesterday, a B&W official said the company would ask a Kentucky
judge to declare Wigand in contempt of court.
"Wigand poses an enormous threat to Brown & Williamson as well
as the other companies who have slaved for years to keep their
knowledge and activities secret," says Clifford Douglas, president
of Tobacco Control Law & Policy Consulting in Chicago.
Mississippi officials say Wigand's testimony may be important to
the state's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which aims to
collect hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for health
care given to poor smokers. It planned to take depositions this
Subpoenas from other states
Other plaintiffs battling the tobacco companies are also likely
to subpoena Wigand. Currently Florida, Minnesota, West Virginia,
Maryland, and Massachusetts have filed or are planning to file
suits seeking from the tobacco companies the medical costs of
treating indigent smokers. …