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Brown & Williamson was an American tobacco company and 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 whistleblower in an investigation conducted by CBS news program 60 Minutes, an event that was dramatized in the film The Insider. Wigand claimed that B&W had introduced chemicals such as ammonia into cigarettes to increase nicotine delivery and increase addictiveness.

Brown & Williamson had its headquarters at Louisville, Kentucky until 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 was also involved in genetically modifying tobacco (notably the controversial Y1 strain).



Brown & Williamson was founded in Winston (today's Winston-Salem), North Carolina, as a partnership of George T. Brown and his brother-in-law Robert Lynn Williamson, whose father was already operating two chewing tobacco manufacturing facilities.[1] Initially, the new partnership took over one of the elder Williamson's factories.[2] In February 1894 the new company, calling itself Brown & Williamson, hired 30 workers and began manufacturing in a leased facility. In 1927 the Brown and Williamson families sold the business to London-based British American Tobacco. 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.


A crucial and historic battle in the war between the tobacco industry and smokers 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. 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. Wigand believed 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 carcinogen that 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."

60 Minutes

Despite Jeffrey Wigand's commitment to honor the confidentiality agreement and his initial refusal to talk to Lowell Bergman, producer of 60 Minutes, Wigand and his family were anonymously stalked, intimidated and threatened with death should he talk. It is thought that Brown & Wiliamson was behind these intimidation attempts. 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 Wallace for 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.

Wigand's best hope remained in Bergman's pledge to air his story on 60 Minutes, Brown & Williamson threatened CBS with a lawsuit for tortious interference, which could spoil an imminent merger plan with Westinghouse. Instead of the original interview, CBS 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 Journal as part of an investigative rebuttal to the attacks. CBS news, embarrassed, finally aired the full, original Wigand interview on 60 Minutes, leaving much of the nation in shock.

Forty-six states ultimately filed a Medicaid suit against the tobacco industry which led to a $368 billion settlement in health-related damages by the tobacco companies.



  1. ^ Robert Lynn Williamson's uncle James Nathaniel Williamson also became a prominent North Carolina businessman. After marrying the daughter of textile pioneer Edwin M. Holt, James Williamson became a principal in the Holt family textile interests and among the leading North Carolina businessmen of his time.[1]
  2. ^ Thomas Farish Williamson, father of Robert Lynn Williamson, Caswell County Notable People, hosted by


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