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Monday, October 6, 2003      
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Grandson of tobacco giant speaks against smoking at Madison Central


By Kristin Gunderson
After watching his dad die from the product that made his family fortune, Patrick Reynolds, grandson of tobacco company founder R.J. Reynolds, became an anti-smoking advocate.
Reynolds relayed his anti-smoking message to about 1,300 students at Madison Central and 200 students at Madison Southern high schools Wednesday.
Reynolds said cigarettes killed his father, and kills two out of every five smokers. He said 50 million smokers reside in the United States.
Talking to youth about smoking is important, he said, because 60 percent of the nation’s millions of smokers started smoking before age 14. He said nine out of 10 smokers were addicted by age 19.
“If you can get to them now, it’s really important,” he said. “Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.”
Reynolds said 11- and 12-year-olds who smoke two to three cigarettes a day can be addicted within two weeks. He told the students to get help if they are already addicted to smoking cigarettes.
“The first step to overcoming an addiction is admitting you’re an addict,” he said. “People who win in life — who succeed — get help.”
Reynolds urged the students to be responsible and make good choices.
“I want to empower you to stay smoke free,” he said.
Reynolds said advertising is a major problem — it keeps cigarettes in teens’ hands and smoke in their lungs.
“Advertising does have an affect on you,” he said. “Advertising sends the message smoking is associated with healthy people, and smoking is acceptable. Both of those are lies.”
He tried to counter the messages by showing advertisements portraying the infamous Joe Camel as Joe Chemo, dying in a hospital bed.
He encouraged students to write legislators in hopes of thwarting smoking, second-hand smoke and the damaging effects of smoking. He said a higher tax on cigarettes in Kentucky is necessary, even though the state is “tobacco country.” He said tobacco farmers need to find another sustaining crop.
“Let them grow corn or wheat or something that will nourish the people, not poison and kill them,” he said.
Reynolds said he turned his back on the family business in 1986, when he spoke out against tobacco for the first time at a congressional hearing. In 1989, he founded the non-profit organization Foundation for a Smokefree America. He has now given motivational speeches to more than 100,000 students.
Reynolds said getting in touch with his feelings about his father’s death and realizing he could make a difference spurred him to be an anti-smoking advocate. He said some family members have disapproved of his advocacy, while others have been more supportive.
He said he has no regrets.
“I know I did the right thing, and I don’t regret it,” Reynolds said. “I got to make a difference. I’m one of many people who has made a difference.”
Kristin Gunderson can be reached at kgunderson@richmondregister.com.
Story created Thursday, September 11, 2003 at 11:55 AM.
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