Frequently asked questions by journalists.
Q & A with Patrick Reynolds
Foundation for a Smokefree America
Los Angeles, California
Patrick Reynolds' office, please
see Contact link at www.Anti-smoking.org
Q May I ask you to introduce yourself?
Patrick Reynolds : Some may know me as the grandson of R.J. Reynolds who first spoke out publicly against the tobacco industry, following my father's death from smoking. I founded the Foundation for a Smokefree America. I'm also a motivational speaker, mostly at middle schools and high schools; I also speak to college students, a much overlooked target population. I've enjoyed doing this work, and hope I've made a difference. In 2000, we released a new educational video of my live assembly program for grades 7-12. We also offer the websites www.tobaccofree.org for adults and school personnel, and www.notobacco.org for teens.
Q. Can you tell us about how you decided to become a tobacco control advocate, and a very vocal one in the public arena?
P R : When I was a little boy of three, my parents were divorced. Upon being reunited with my father six years later, I was saddened to find him lying down, with sandbags on his chest. In those days, sandbags were put on the chest to exercise the lungs.
My only memories of my Dad, R.J. Reynolds, Jr., are of a man always short of breath, increasingly sick and frail, and counting the time he had left to
live. He died from emphysema, the result of his lifelong cigarette addiction, in 1964, when I was still a boy.
In 1986, during a tour of the capitol, I met Senator Robert Packwood. I mentioned to him that I believed cigarette taxes should be higher. Immediately, he invited me to testify before a Senate subcommittee -- the
I was a bit stunned by this, and declined. But Packwood's invitation made me realize that day that perhaps I could be a voice to wake people up to the dangers of smoking. Back home in Los Angeles, I began looking into the tobacco industry. I didn't know much about it, because no family member had worked in a position of importance at RJ Reynolds in decades.
At that time, I was also getting in touch with some long-buried grief and anger over my father's early death.
Back in LA, I learned from the American Lung Association about the tobacco companies and their marketing practices. I became increasingly disturbed.
Finally I agreed to testify before a Congressional hearing on July 18, 1986,
as a witness for the ALA. My testimony was widely reported in the media, and
overnight, I was catapulted into the spotlight.
I was besieged with requests from local and national health groups to speak, and to campaign for State cigarette tax increases, laws limiting secondhand smoke, laws banning vending machines, and more.
As I answered the call and worked on these various political campaigns, I became increasingly devoted to, and more deeply committed to, the fight against tobacco. In 1989 in Los Angeles, I founded The Foundation for a Smokefree America. I will continue this work and be dedicated to the cause for the rest of my life.
Our movement is composed of many thousands of people, who have all pulled together to bring about the great progress we've made in recent years. I'm pleased to be counted among their ranks.
Q2. You started speaking out publicly against tobacco in 1986 and you are still at it 15 years later. Your recent video was shot in front of a high school audience in a packed auditorium in Texas. You just returned from a similar presentation in Idaho.
How many times have you been invited to speak that way? How many kids have
heard your message, and viewed your video? How do they react?
P R : Our first video, "The Truth about Tobacco," has been bought by over 10,000 schools and libraries. If 200 youth see each video over the next two years, it means that 2 million children will see it. That's very exciting to me.
In recent years, I've spoken live before almost 100,000 students. During Fall and Spring, my calendar is booked with one to four speaking dates a week. Winter and summer are more quiet. My speaking fee includes two assembly programs; clients often add in a third, or even another day or two of talks. The rest of the year, I concentrate on my advocacy work, marketing the live talks and video, and developing the non-profit I founded, The Foundation for a Smokefree America.
Q3. You tell in a very poignant way the story of Sean Marsee who died at 19 because of his tobacco chewing addiction. Snuff is outlawed in most of the EU countries but it is apparently a growing business in the US. Where is the outrage? What should be done?
P R : Telling stories, especially to kids, is one of the most ancient arts, and a great way to get kids to really focus. So I put Sean Marsee's tragic history into story form. It's probably the most dramatic and effective part of my talk, and it captivates audiences. During this section, I show before and after overheads of Sean. When students see him dying in bed at 19, with part of his jaw, neck and nose amputated, there are gasps. The text of the story I tell is posted in full at www.tobaccofree.org/children.htm, under the headline, "Countertop Displays and Dip". I'm glad to learn snuff is outlawed in most European countries.
POINT OF PURCHASE / COUNTERTOP TOBACCO DISPLAYS
The outrage is how the tobacco industry re-popularized chewing tobacco, when
not long ago, it had all but vanished as a pastime. Two key marketing
strategies were placing countertop displays everywhere, and endorsements by
baseball players, who of course are role models for young boys.
Today Big Tobacco continues to spend billions annually just on countertop
displays. They pay each store around $100 per month for every display stores
keep on countertops. These displays make chewing tobacco, as well as
cigarettes, look to kids like normal, acceptable, products. They're right on
the countertop along with all the other normal products. And they face away
from the cashier, and are too easy for children to steal.
At every school I ask, "How many of you know that that stores get paid up to
$100 per month for every tobacco display they put on countertops?" In city
after city, I see only two or three hands go up, among hundreds. I continue,
"Yet since you were this high, and this high, you've seen those displays --
right in your face, where the tobacco is easy to steal, often right next to
the candy. Some of you concluded, seeing cigarettes everywhere, that they're
just another regular product, like chewing gum or snacks."
What should be done? I feel strongly that all tobacco advertising, which is
commercial speech and not private speech, should be banned. But conservative
justices in our courts have ruled in recent memory that Freedom of Speech
protects tobacco ads. It's notable that liberal justices dissent this idea
more often. Another hope for getting rid of countertop displays was dashed in
April, when the budget President Bush proposed would essentially defund the
Federal government's lawsuit against Big Tobacco (see
www.tobaccofree.org/Bush2.htm. Our side might have gotten the tobacco
industry to end all tobacco advertising, as a deal point in the later
settlement of that suit.
TV SPOT: "Countertop Display"
30 seconds or 60 seconds
The "Countertop Display" spot I wrote would be filmed in a documentary / reality TV style.
We see the the exterior of a gas station convenience store.
We see a teen and his much younger brother entering a convenience store.
On the way in, little brother comes nose-to-nose with a tobacco ad on the door.
Inside, the older one looks at the clerk, points to a tobacco display behind the counter, and says,
"Mister, how much money does your store get paid every month to keep this display behind the countertop?"
We see a quick insert of little brother, listening.
The clerk responds, as though it's perfectly normal, "That one? Oh, about $100 a month. About $80 a month for this one. And that big one up there, well we get around $300 a month for that."
Little brother is astonished: "You get paid money every month for those?"
"Sure we do," says the clerk, casually cleaning the counter.
Older brother: "When I was his age, I thought you put 'em there cause they're cool."
Clerk: "Are you kidding? These things'll kill ya!"
Little brother: "They will?"
"Yeah, and the tobacco industry pays our store a lot of money every year to, just to keep their tobacco displays in the store."
Little brother: "How come they used to be next to the candy?"
The clerk reacts, says nothing.
Cut to a wide shot of the exterior of the store. Fade out.
This would be an effective counter-ad to the ubiquitous displays of tobacco, which presently fool millions of kids into thinking cigarettes are a normal, acceptable product.
FAITH IN THE FUTURE, AS A NEW WAY TO MOTIVATE YOUTH TO STAY TOBACCO AND DRUG
I have a new theory which
suggests there is one previously unidentified but very significant factor
in the enormous increase in teen smoking in the 1990's.
As most of us know, tragically, from 1988 to 1998, there was a huge 73% upsurge in teen smoking, according to the CDC. Many of us are aware that a CDC study suggested that the primary causes were tobacco ads targeting youth, like Joe Camel and the Marlboro man, and a corresponding increase of smoking by stars in movies and TV.
I advanced a new theory concerning a third cause, as a side item in a paper I wrote for the Stanford University Medical Review a year or so ago.
I pointed to some 1994 market research by Coca-Cola, which showed that great numbers of young people today suffer from intense anxiety about the future and "an acute sense of diminished expectations." (Time, May 30, 1994) "Today, 50% of children ages 9-17 worry about dying young." (Yankelovitch Partners Study, Time, May 3, 1999)
Believing they face bleak prospects, it's logical that many teens would be much less concerned about taking care of their health. "There's no future ahead, so I may as well smoke / take drugs / drink and party now." I believe this is a third, overlooked reason for the huge 1990's increase in teen smoking, and that this bears further study. Our foundation would like to partner with a university in this.
To confront the new teen pessimism, in my live talk and educational video, I devote a section to motivating youth to believe more strongly in the future. I share my "rock-solid faith that the future holds incredible things. You're going to need your health, every bit of it, in the great and amazing times ahead -- so don't smoke, don't drink, and don't throw your life away on drugs. Hold on to your health -- for the incredible, wondrous years just ahead of you!" [INSERT: See video clip 5 at www.tobaccofree.org/clips.htm.]
One spot I envision to address this problem would play best on a big screen, in movie theatres. I submitted it to Alex Bogusky along with the one above. Here's a revised version:
TV SPOT: "KEEP THE FAITH"
We're hurtling through outer space. Planet earth appears in the distance, and grows larger. As earth gets closer, we see the outlines of continents and oceans. Suddenly a huge beam of white light hits the earth from offscreen. There is a burst of choral-like sound. We move in still closer, and the incredible white beam continues -- shots looking straight down on North America, then Europe, then Asia, show the white light slowly spreading across the continents.
Down on earth, we see people standing still, faces gazing calmly skyward. We go close on the faces of several races, filled with wonder as the light falls on them. These faces are without fear, and are filled with a quiet peace. Hold on a pair of young people looking up.
Fade up a title: THE FUTURE LOOKS GREAT. Fade up: SO HOLD ON TO YOUR HEALTH. Fade up: DON'T SMOKE.
Q4 . You say to the kids it is very hard to quit so don't start. But what do
you say to help people, including young people, quit? What are your best tips
as a former smoker who quit, and as a motivational speaker?
P R : I wrote an informational / motivational piece on quitting smoking for
our website (www.tobaccofree.org/quitting.htm). I stress to prospective
quitters the importance of getting into one or more good programs, and not to
try quitting without being in one. I summarize the boilerplate points
contained in many mainstream smoking cessation programs. This is what I call
I strongly emphasize, however, "Phase II" of quitting, and this is what makes
my approach somewhat unique. When I say "Phase II," I'm referring to the
period one month to two years after the stop date, when the urge to smoke has
greatly diminished, or even died away entirely.
It's in this period that most smokers suddenly get a strong craving, and
convince themselves they can have "just one." At that point, they often
relapse and go back to smoking. Most quit programs do not emphasize this
inevitable pitfall enough.
I went back to smoking 11 times in this way, before finally stopping
successfully in 1985. I tell quitters this:
After the urges to smoke have become more and more infrequent, overwhelming
surprise attacks are sure to come, a few weeks and months into your new
smokefree life. When these nearly out-of-control urges came (and they always
engulfed me in unexpected moments) --
I learned that if I did my deep breathing (see
www.tobaccofree.org/quitpoints.htm), and if I could just hold on for 5
minutes ? the urge would completely pass.
That is by far the single most important thing I learned -- the hard way --
about how to quit successfully.
Because I didn't know this, I failed 11 times. I finally stopped for good on
my 12th try, in Spring 1985. It's the key to what has empowered me to stay
smokefree for the past sixteen years or so.
Q5. In your video you show anti-tobacco clips of young people making fun and
attacking magazines that still take tobacco ads. Is the youth oriented Truth
movement beginning to be a significant force? Do you feel its impact among
the young people you see, or is it mostly restricted to the states that have
poured significant resources into it (Florida, Mississippi, Minnesota)? Is it
P R : Florida's tobacco prevention campaign resulted in the most successful
effort ever. By early 2000, there had been a 50% reduction in middle school
smoking in Florida, largely as a result of their well-funded program.
California's program has also been extremely successful.
A preliminary study by Dr. Douglas A. Luke released on 9/28/2000 suggested
that stronger State tobacco control policies do result in lower teen smoking
rates. States like New York, California, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, which
have more extensive tobacco control policies, had significantly lower teen
smoking rates than States with fewer such policies, such as South Dakota,
Wisconsin and Kentucky.
Most of us know that over 99% of the settlement money simply went into each
State's general fund, without any requirement to allocate dollars for the
kind of tremendously successful youth tobacco prevention programs implemented
in Florida. A little under 1%, or $1.45 billion, went to create the new
national foundation for tobacco education, the American Legacy Foundation, in
Although the income from the national foundation is expected to be about $300
million per year, the tobacco industry spent $5 billion on advertising in
1998. Then in 1999, they increased it to an astounding $8 billion! (A very
large portion of that was used to pay grocery and convenience stores for
tobacco displays on their countertops.)
Florida has now cut middle school smoking by 50%. These programs work
effectively, but only when they are well funded. More of the Tobacco
Settlement should be used to help make up the enormous gap between the $8
billion the tobacco industry spends annually on cigarette advertising, and
the few hundred million the American Legacy Foundation, and a handful of
States, now have to work with annually.
It's critical that the other States soon allocate more funds for tobacco
prevention and education. So our next task is to convince our legislators of
this need, and that these programs really do work.
The Campaign for Tobaccofree Kids reports that as of April, 2001, only 17
States have allocated a substantial portion of their Settlement funds to
provide tobacco education and cessation programs, according to CDC
recommended guidelines. But a majority of these only met the CDC's minimum
This leads us, inevitably, to a discussion of politics.
In agreeing to the Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco industry attorneys
may have considered that the national foundation might make it appear to
State legislators as though enough funding for tobacco prevention and
education had already been allocated.
In addition there is a mistaken presumption among many politicians that
tobacco education programs don't work or are ineffective. To repeat, the
Florida programs resulted in a 50% reduction of middle school smoking.
Meanwhile, the tobacco companies have continued an unprecedented binge of
political contributions to our politicians, with 88% going to Republicans.
Sadly, these campaign contributions by Big Tobacco will no doubt prevent many
States from allocating further settlement funds for tobacco education
programs. Strong campaign finance reform would do much to correct this
Campaign donations from the tobacco companies are a primary reason that so
many States have set aside only a fraction of the funds needed to duplicate
Florida's success. Even the Florida House at one point cut the Florida Pilot
Program to $0 -- not too long after the tobacco industry donated $450,000 to
its members, mostly to Republicans. Funding was partially restored by the
Senate, but some advocates have accused Republican Florida governor Jeb Bush
of trying to dismantle Florida's program.
Stan Glantz has urged advocates to be more outspoken. I have been outspoken
about these issues for many years now, as a private citizen. It's time to
speak up more, but I do not wish to continue doing so alone. I hope to be
invited to speak by local groups more, to help advocate change, and to shine
the spotlight of public attention on those blocking the way.
No politics are contained in my live talks to youth or in our educational
video, of course.
With patience and persistence, and with the passage of strong campaign
finance reform, advocates can begin to change legislators' minds about the
importance of tobacco prevention programs.
We need to present our legislators with the existing scientific proof that
these programs work. If lawmakers are shown the well documented studies we
already have, our elected officials will have a clear and pressing mandate to
fulfill the promise made by all the States as they first embarked on suing
At that time, the States all vowed to use a substantial portion of any
Settlement money to prevent youth from becoming addicted to tobacco. For a
majority of States, it is a promise still waiting to be kept -- and sadly,
the real losers here are our children.
Information on Patrick Reynolds' live motivational talks and the educational video, "The Truth about Tobacco," is available at his group's website, www.tobaccofree.org.