A life seriously damaged by smoking

Jeffrey Wigand still can’t believe he is the main character in a Hollywood blockbuster. “Are you kidding me? I didn’t think I’d survive.”

It has been more than five years since the man now known as the first tobacco industry whistleblower became the most senior executive to break ranks. But neither “The Insider”, the Oscar-nominated film starring Al Pacino, nor the publicity that surrounded Wigand’s crusade against big tobacco companies has bestowed on him even the slightest touch of celebrity.

I expected to meet a bitter and emotionally withered man who, after an infamous 1995 interview with CBS’s Mike Wallace, would carefully measure every word he uttered to a reporter. But I couldn’t have been more wrong…

‘It’s not how old you are’

Helen Thomas hoped in vain that her 80th birthday on August 4 — a date she shares with the British Queen Mother and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader — would pass unnoticed. “I don’t want anyone to know,” she said. “I don’t see why people have to be stamped by their age — that’s prejudice.”

But nothing made her angrier than the “congratulations” she received on her “retirement”, when she announced in May that she was leaving her front-row seat in the White House press room, where she had reported on eight presidents for United Press International (UPI) over four decades. She was simply changing jobs, and is now a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, the US chain that owns dozens of publications, including the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner…