November 28, 2013 12:25:41 AM
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Merrell Williams Jr., a one-time Kentucky paralegal who took on Big Tobacco as a whistleblower who leaked internal documents exposing health risks and the addictiveness of cigarettes, has died in Mississippi, decades after he joined the fight that forever changed perceptions of smoking.
Williams died last week of a heart attack in Ocean Springs, his daughter, Jennifer Smith, said Monday. He was 72.
He worked for a Kentucky law firm representing the then-Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and leaked thousands of pages of internal memos and studies concerning smoking and health that provided newfound ammunition to tobacco opponents.
The information made national headlines. News organizations reported the information showed Brown & Williamson executives knew decades earlier that nicotine was addictive and that they funneled potentially damaging documents to lawyers to keep them secret.
A few years later, the tobacco industry agreed to a massive settlement with the states over smoking-related health costs.