Grant McLachlan, Dan McCaffrey and I were having dinner at Leuven last Wednesday, when who should plonk himself down at the next table but Jeffrey Wigand, the legendary Big Tobacco whistleblower.
I haven’t seen Russell Crowe’s portrayal of him on The Insider, but I recognised him from a Breakfast interview that morning.
Grant greeted him like a long-lost friend. And Dan, tongue firmly in cheek, launched into a rave about how soaring cigarette prices were unfairly punishing our beneficiaries.
And boy, did Dr Wigand seize the bait. With shark-like ferocity, he replied that anyone caught spending their welfare check on cigarettes should have their benefit cut.
(Sounds fair to me.)
I could see at that moment why Jeffrey Wigand was such a handful for those tobacco lawyers. He’s one determined guy, who speaks in the plainest of English. I wish we had more of them here.
I told him I’d send him this poem from my book I Think The Clouds Are Cotton Wool:
(First verse sung to the tune of A Bicycle Built For Two)
Give me your cancer, do;
More of your smoke than you;
It’s hard to believe that soon we’ll
Be meeting at my funeral,
And when I’m dead
It can be said
I was basically killed by you.
. . .
Nothing on this planet kills
Like W.D. and H.O. Wills;
Not the tiger, not the shark,
Not Al-Qaeda in Iraq;
More than Hitler or Bin Laden,
Genghis Khan or Joseph Stalin;
Mussolini and Saddam
Haven’t done a lot of harm
Next to the collected horrors
Of a certain Philip Morris.
Kaiser Bill and Mao Zedong
Hardly put a jackboot wrong;
Idi’s army in Uganda,
Tutsi-butchers in Rwanda;
Even naughty old Pol Pot
Couldn’t slaughter like this lot;
The worst of men from history’s annals
Did not kill like RJ Reynolds.
Serbia, the loss of which
Must have hurt — and serves him right —
But not as much as Winston Light.
Evil Nicolai Ceaucescu,
Though he left us kids to rescue,
More Romanian orphans die
From nicotine than Nicolai.
Mr Benson, Mr Hedges —
Killers both, the state alleges;
Rothmans, Carlton and Winfield —
Murderers who stand revealed.
As their legal team tap-dances,
Ask them questions, they give cancers;
Should there be a total ban?
Why not ask the Marlboro Man?
Marlboro Man, that great romancer,
Just before he died of cancer,
Choked, “I think … at last … I’ve hit
Upon a … failsafe … way to … quit.”
Lawyers stall and judges fudge;
Politicians dare not budge;
Big Tobacco’s biggest three
(Reynolds, Morris, BAT)
Hide behind the same defence:
. . .
(This last verse sung to the tune of Chim-chim-cheree)
Time we were giving
Tobacco the boot;
How many more, how many more
Graves must be filled
Full of the smokers
You jokers have killed?
© J Ansell 2003
I hope he likes it.
A few years back, when the air quality in most pubs was on a par with the inside of a chimney, I plucked up the courage to perform the above in a bar full of smokers.
I thought I’d be lucky to get out alive, but I wanted them to know how I felt about their selfish habit.
And did they attack me?
Er, no. They clapped and cheered, and voted me the bar tab for best poem of the night.
So did my brave recital cause them to rethink their attitude toward polluting other people’s lungs?
Again, no. When the reading had finished, most of them went back to the bar and lit up a fag.