- Brown & Williamson
Brown & Williamson was an American
tobacco companyand subsidiary of the giant British American Tobacco, that produced several popular cigarette brands. It became infamous as the focus of investigations for chemically enhancing the addictiveness of cigarettes. Its former vice-president of research and development, Jeffrey Wigand, was the whistleblowerin an investigation conducted by CBSnews program " 60 Minutes", an event that was dramatized in the film "The Insider". Wigand claimed that B&W had introduced chemicals such as ammoniainto cigarettes to increase nicotinedelivery and increase addictiveness.
Brown & Williamson had its headquarters at
Louisville, Kentuckyuntil July 30, 2004, when the U.S. operations of Brown & Williamson merged with R.J. Reynolds, creating a new publicly traded parent company, Reynolds American Inc..
B&W were also involved in genetically modifying tobacco (for example, the infamous Y1 strain).
Controversy at Brown & Williamson
A crucial and historic battle in the war between the tobacco industry and its victims began with
Jeffrey Wigand, a doctor of biochemistry with a career focus on health issues who became the Vice President of Research & Development at Brown & Williamson in 1989. He was hired to research safer means of delivering nicotine by reducing the harm of other tobacco compounds. At the time, both the addictiveness of nicotine and the health hazards of cigarettes were well known by the company and the industry, but kept a fiercely guarded secret. Wigand soon found his research and recommendations discouraged, ignored and censored, leading to confrontations with the CEO, Thomas Sandefur, who did not want any public mention of cigarettes made safer because that would be an admission they were not safe to begin with, making Dr. Wigand's job a pointless hypocrisy. Thwarted and frustrated, Wigand turned his attention to improving tobacco additives, some of which were designed for "impact boosting," using chemicals like ammonia to enhance absorption of nicotine in the lungs and affect the brain and central nervous system faster. This process was a deliberate attempt to increase addiction to cigarettes.
Wigand's disagreements with Sandefur reached a breaking point over a flavor enhancer called
Coumarin, which had been proven to be a lung-specific carcinogenthat the company continued to use in pipe tobacco. Wigand demanded its removal, but a successful substitute could not be developed and Sandefur refused on the grounds that sales would drop. This argument led Sandefur to fire Wigand in 1993 and to force him to sign an extended confidentiality agreement forbidding him to speak of anything related to his work or the company. The penalty for violating confidentiality was loss of his severance pay, potential lawsuit, and loss of medical coverage. At the time, his daughter suffered from a chronic illness which required continuous medical attention.
Soon after this incident, the seven executives of "
Big Tobacco" testified during congressional hearings that they believed "Nicotine is not addictive."
Despite Jeffrey Wigand's commitment to honor the agreement and initial refusal to talk to
Lowell Bergman, producer of "60 Minutes", he and his family were anonymously stalked, intimidated and threatened with death should he talk. While never proven, it is more commonly thought that Brown & Wiliamson was behind these crimes. Instead of silencing him, these tactics provoked Wigand into further talks with Bergman, who eventually won his trust, provided him with armed bodyguards and, after legal consultation, urged him to testify for the State of Mississippi in a lawsuit against "Big Tobacco" brought by Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, a tactic designed to nullify his confidentiality agreement before revealing the truth in an interview with Mike Wallacefor "60 Minutes". The tobacco interests responded by getting a Kentucky judge to issue a gag order that subjected Wigand to arrest upon returning to his home state.
Reduced to teaching high school at 1/10th his former salary and living in constant fear, Wigand started carrying a gun and was abandoned by his wife, who filed for divorce after a bullet was placed in their mailbox and death threats were made towards their daughters. Wigand's best hope remained in Bergman's pledge of to air his story on "60 Minutes", but the power of Brown & Williamson was great enough to coerce CBS corporate into stopping the broadcast on threat of lawsuit for Tortious interference, which would spoil an imminent merger plan with Westinghouse. Instead of the original interview, they aired an edited version which did not disclose the crucial details. Bergman bitterly opposed the breaking of his word to Wigand, which eventually led to his resignation from "60 Minutes" after 14 successful years.
Brown & Williamson still tried to sue Wigand for theft, fraud and breach of contract after the sanitized interview was aired, and launched a 500 page smear campaign against him. Fortunately for Wigand, his depositions at the Mississippi and Kentucky state courts were leaked, and were published by the
Wall Street Journalas part of an investigative rebuttal to the attacks. CBS news, embarrassed, finally aired the original full Wigand interview on "60 Minutes", leaving much of the nation in shock.
Forty-six states ultimately filed a
Medicaidsuit against the tobacco industry which led to a $368 billion settlement in health-related damages by the tobacco companies.
Brown & Williamson was founded in Winston (today's Winston-Salem), North Carolina, a partnership of George T. Brown and his brother-in-law Robert Lynn Williamson, whose father was already operating two plug-tobacco manufacturing factories of his own. Initially, the new partnership took over one of the elder Williamson's factories. [ [http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ncccha/biographies/thomasfarishwilliamson/thomasfarishwilliamson.html Thomas Farish Williamson, father of Robert Lynn Williamson, Caswell County Notable People, hosted by rootsweb.com] ] In February 1894 the new company, calling itself Brown & Williamson, leased a small facility, hired 30 workers and began manufacturing.In 1927 the Brown and Williamson families sold the business to London-based British American Tobacco p.l.c. The business was reorganized as the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation. Manufacturing and distribution were expanded, and work on a new B&W factory in Louisville was begun.
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