Speaker: Educate children

Tobacco company executive quits after learning habit's dangers.

Former tobacco executive Jeffrey Wigand encouraged the Muncie community to educate children about the dangers of smoking Monday night as part of Ball State's UniverCity keynote program.

Known for "The Insider," a 1999 movie in which Russell Crowe plays Wigand, the businessman became the first inside executive to speak out against the tobacco industry when he told his story to "60 Minutes" in 1995. The tape wasn't aired publicly until February 1996.

After having started smoking when he began working for Brown & Williamson Tobacco, maker of Lucky Strike and Viceroy cigarettes, in 1988, Wigand said he quit smoking when his research revealed the dangers of smoking.

"I picked it up and I had one, I had two and I was up to a pack a day," he said. "I thought I knew that I could stop when I wanted to stop."

While Wigand works to educate children at a vulnerable age, he also said the Federal Drug Administration should be able to label cigarettes.

"I am not advocating to make it illegal," Wigand said "I'm only advocating to keep it away from our children and put it in the proper context of a product that when used as intended...kills," he said. "They need to tell you what's in the package - tell you how the nicotine is manipulated - tell you what the tar is,tell you when they leave pesticide residues in there - tell you when they leave fermentation associated with bacterial growth and put it on the label, just like your Twinkies, your Oreo cookies, your candy bars and any other product in your house."

Ninety percent of smokers start as children who don't understand the issues at hand, he said, and Wigand's Smoke-free Kids program is his advocator.

Wigand also said the $10 billion a year advertising campaign is misleading its audience by creating an image of sexuality, fitness and fun. The advertising is also placing the blame on parents and children with ads that read: "Ask your parents before smoking."

"Let us take care of our kids," Wigand said. "You've been taking care of our kids for the past five decades."

After he shared his story, Wigand answered questions from the audience and said he works with children in activities that relate to creative critical thinking. Wigand said students dissect cigarettes and discover that 50 percent is tobacco and the other half is "trash."

Wigand also lights a cigarette and removes nail polish with its residue.

"She (a student) looks at me - and the class looks at me - and they understand," Wigand said. "I didn't say it had acetone in it. I didn't say it had nail polish remover in it. They make the connectivity because they can see it, they can think it and they can observe it. I don't have to tell them."


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