The Moral Dilemma Faced by Whistleblowers
Whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand is former executive at the tobacco company Brown & Williamson. In 1996 he exposed that company intentionally manipulated its tobacco blend with chemicals like ammonia. Wigand's decision to speak out about the tobacco industry's practices made him a target of intense scrutiny and retaliation, but it also led to significant changes in the way tobacco companies operate and the public's perception of them.
Whistleblowers are people who come forward and expose wrongdoing, often at great personal risk. Their actions can have far-reaching consequences, and they often face retaliation from those they are exposing.
“I am a whistle-blower, I am notorious. It is a kind of infamy doing what I am doing, isn’t that what they say?”
Jeffrey Wigand, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, Vanity Fair (06.1996)
This is the story about Jeffrey Wigand, the challenges he faced as a whistleblower, and the impact his actions had on the tobacco industry and beyond.
In the early 1990s, Wigand became increasingly concerned about the health risks associated with smoking and the tobacco industry's practices. He had first-hand knowledge of the industry's use of additives and chemicals that enhanced the addictiveness of cigarettes and the company's efforts to hide this information from the public.
Wigand's concerns were heightened when he was asked to oversee the development of a new product, a high-nicotine cigarette that he believed was even more dangerous than existing cigarettes. He was also asked to sign a confidentiality agreement that prevented him from speaking out about his concerns.
Despite the agreement, Wigand became increasingly convinced that he had a moral obligation to speak out. In 1993, he contacted a journalist named Lowell Bergman, who was working on a story about the tobacco industry for the television news program “60 Minutes”. Bergman was initially skeptical of Wigand's claims but eventually became convinced that he was telling the truth.
Wigand's decision to speak out had significant consequences. He faced intense scrutiny and harassment from Brown & Williamson, which launched a campaign to discredit him and his claims. The company sued him for breach of contract, and he was fired from his job. His story was also told in the movie “The Insider” (1999).
How Jeffrey Wigand's Actions Changed the Tobacco Industry
Wigand's decision also had a significant impact on the tobacco industry and the public's perception of it. His testimony and the subsequent media coverage led to a wave of lawsuits against tobacco companies, as well as increased regulation and public awareness of the health risks associated with smoking. It also led to the creation of whistleblower protections and laws designed to encourage and protect individuals who come forward to expose wrongdoing.
The Importance of Stronger Protections and Resources to Support Whistleblowers
The story of Jeffrey Wigand is a powerful reminder of the importance of whistleblowers and the challenges they face. Wigand's decision to speak out about the tobacco industry's practices was a courageous one, and it had far-reaching consequences.
Wigand's story also highlights the need for stronger whistleblower protections and the importance of supporting individuals who come forward to expose wrongdoing. At WeMoral we believe that whistleblowers play a critical role in promoting transparency and accountability, and we are committed to providing the tools and support they need to do so safely and effectively.
If you or someone you know is considering blowing the whistle on illegal or unethical activity, we encourage you to explore the resources available on our website, including our guide to whistleblowing and our secure, anonymous reporting platform. We also encourage you to learn more about other famous whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz in our blog section.