No smoke and mirrors during honest presentation by tobacco company heir

By McKibben Jackinsky
Homer Tribune


A direct descendant of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s founder, Patrick Reynolds’ warnings against smoking are impossible to ignore. Painful firsthand experience, staggering statistics and an emotionally honest delivery create lasting impressions that have captivated audiences since the mid-1980s. Tomorrow, he winds up a three-stop Alaska tour, with a presentation at Ninilchik School. Sponsored by Ninilchik Traditional Council, Reynolds’ presentation is open to the public.

In addition to being the grandson of R.J. Reynolds, founder of the second largest tobacco company in the United States, Reynolds lost his father, his oldest brother and other relatives to cigarette-induced emphysema and lung cancer. Ignoring the dangers, Reynolds started smoking while in his teens.

Then, in 1979, he chose a different path. Privately, Reynolds sold his shares in the family’s tobacco empire. In 1986, he testified before Congress in support of banning tobacco advertising. In 1989, he founded The Foundation for a Smokefree America. That same year, he co-authored “The Gilded Leaf,” a family biography. In 1998, he produced “Straight Talk About Tobacco,” an educational video.

Believing that “we find our greatest glory in our deepest wound,” Reynolds opens his presentations by discussing the loss of his father, first through the divorce of his parents when he was a young boy. Reconnecting with his father years later, Reynolds discovered that his father was dying. The loss was painfully deep, but from it grew a motivation that shaped his future.

“My brothers were pretty angry about it at first,” he said of family reaction to his stand against smoking. “They were concerned I might be an embarrassment.” But that has not been the case. “I have received many awards, and they saw that I brought honor to the family name,” Reynolds said.

He has delivered his talk to more than 100,000 students. His video has been purchased by more than 3,500 schools and health departments, and has been viewed by more than one million junior and high school students.

The persuasive power of advertising gets hit with Reynolds’ spotlight. “How many know that when you see tobacco displays in convenience stores, the stores are getting paid to have them on display?” he asks, referring to the cigarette displays strategically placed next to the chewing gum and candy displays that catch the eyes of youngsters.

Boiling his presentation down to one message, it is that cigarettes are addictive. “Almost nobody starts smoking after 19 (years of age),” he said. How many cigarettes does it take to become addicted? According to a 2002 study, Reynolds said, 11- to 13-year-olds became addicted within as little as two weeks. “Once you get hooked, you can’t stop,” Reynolds said. “Hear me and hear me well.”

Hear also Reynolds’ message of hope. “I have a vision that one day we are going to have a tobacco-free society,” he said. “A society free of parents who die early because of smoking, free of special interests like big tobacco. Those things are coming one day, because you are the future.” And that, he said, is reason to look forward to the future, “because the future is looking great if you don’t smoke and don’t do drugs. Hold onto your health for those incredible years ahead.”

Char Florence, Ninilchik Traditional Council’s youth alcohol prevention program manager and alcohol director said, “We wanted to do something for the whole community, not just for the school. (Reynolds) is very, very anti-tobacco, which I think is marvelous considering he was heir to the throne. That’s incredible.”

Reynolds presentation begins at Ninilchik School at 2 p.m., tomorrow.