When former Brown & Williamson executive Jeffrey Wigand went up against Big Tobacco in 1995, he had to have a bodyguard. Now, thanks in part to a Hollywood movie, The Insider, he is a full-time crusader, arguing for smoking bans around the world and testifying last week in a federal racketeering case against tobacco companies. He spoke with TIME's Amanda Ripley.
HAVE WE GONE TOO FAR WITH THE BANS? IN NEW YORK CITY YOU CAN'T SMOKE IN RESTAURANTS AND EVEN PART OF A PARK. No. Have you ever read On Liberty by John Stuart Mill?
YES, IN COLLEGE. SHOULD I READ IT AGAIN? Yes, you should. He says there's only one case when government has an obligation to intercede in the liberty of one: when that liberty hurts another. What [New York City] Mayor Bloomberg did was to prevent harm. I was down in the Village last week, and it's packed. The restaurants are cleaner. They're making more money. I was in Washington this week, and I couldn't go anywhere smoke-free.
SO WHAT DID YOU DO? I didn't go inside. I know that 20 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke starts creating cardiovascular problems for me. But what about all the people who don't know that?
YOU'VE JUST TESTIFIED IN THE FEDERAL RACKETEERING CASE AGAINST THE MAJOR CIGARETTE COMPANIES. WHY IS THAT TRIAL SO IMPORTANT? The accountability is now shifting from the state to the federal level. It's kind of a capstone. The states, with the exception of Mississippi, Maine and Arkansas, are a disappointment. Most have used their settlement money for various things other than [educating] children.
WHISTLE-BLOWERS USUALLY HAVE A HARD TIME REINVENTING THEMSELVES. NO MATTER WHAT, THEY ARE VIEWED AS DISLOYAL. HOW DID YOU ESCAPE THAT FATE? Don't know. The truth came out, and it came out in spades. The movie helped. I became a poster boy. I think the egregious behavior [of tobacco companies]--that it went on for decades. I think people got angry. There is also a price that comes with that. My daughters understood what I did, and they're very proud. If my marriage had been strong enough, it might have withstood it too. But it didn't.
THERE WAS A TIME WHEN YOU FACED THREATS AND RETRIBUTION FOR YOUR ACTIONS. DO SOME PEOPLE STILL WISH YOU WOULD GO AWAY? I hope every day they wish I'd go away. How's that? I get threats from time to time. When I was in Georgia recently, teaching at a school, they had to have police there all day. There are still crazies out there. I kind of feel I'm not doing my job if I'm not pissing them off a little bit.
I'VE NEVER MET A WHISTLE-BLOWER WHO LIKED THE WORD. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? What does that word mean to you? What's the connotation? Tattletale, snitch. Those are pejorative words. How about "person of conscience"?
60 MINUTES HAS HAD A FEW EMBARRASSMENTS IN ITS LONG HISTORY, INCLUDING STALLING THE BROADCAST OF YOUR 1995 INTERVIEW OUT OF FEAR OF LAWSUITS. WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT CBS GOT IN TROUBLE LAST YEAR FOR BEING TOO EAGER TO AIR DUBIOUS MEMOS ABOUT PRESIDENT BUSH? All I can tell you is that everything they did with me was picayune. They reviewed everything over and over. I feel sorry for Dan Rather.