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|From The Morning Call
-- March 17, 2004|
Tobacco heir in Bucks to push anti-smoking agenda
State has effective program, but could do more, Reynolds says.
Of The Morning Call
''Countertop displays are a big part of it,'' Reynolds said. ''They make tobacco look like a regular American product, and they sell it next to the candy.''
Reynolds, an heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, broke with his family's company in 1988 after watching his father, R.J. Reynolds Jr., die from cigarette-induced emphysema. He founded the Foundation for a Smokefree America, and now spends his time speaking to schools and community groups and lobbying for tough anti-smoking laws. On Tuesday, he spoke with about 300 students at Bucks County Community College, then addressed a dinner sponsored by the Business Employee Assistance Consortium, known as BEACON, a county agency that administers anti-smoking programs.
Reynolds said he may soon take a leave from his anti-smoking projects to run for state representative in Florida, where he lives. Reynolds said he has been encouraged to run by Sen. John Kerry, whom he met casually at a restaurant in New York last December, well before Kerry had the Democratic Party's nomination for president sewn up. Reynolds said he has until May to make a decision on the race.
''I'm going to run on my integrity and reputation,'' he said.
Reynolds also is critical of President George W. Bush, who he said has done nothing to support anti-smoking measures since taking office three years ago. According to Reynolds, the administration of former President Bill Clinton proposed several anti-smoking initiatives, including a federally mandated $1 per pack tax hike, establishment of U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations for cigarette manufacturers, and development of regulations for workplace smoking rules by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but the Bush administration has put the brakes on those initiatives.
He blamed the tobacco industry's lobbyists in Washington.
''Nothing has happened on the federal level,'' he said. ''The tobacco industry is among the top two or three donors to politicians.''
He said Pennsylvania has an effective anti-smoking program, which is funded through the $400 million per year payment the state has received since 1998 following the settlement of the class-action lawsuits filed by the states against the tobacco industry. He pointed out, though, that a state law remains on the books that prevents Pennsylvania municipalities from adopting their own anti-smoking ordinances, which are needed to ban smoking in restaurants and similar public places. He said the state Legislature would do well to repeal the law.
According to Cherie Brumans, a prevention specialist for BEACON, about 29 percent of Bucks County residents use tobacco products. Brumans did not have figures immediately available on teenage smokers, but BEACON believes the number has dipped in recent years.
She said the tobacco settlement has enabled her organization to establish an effective anti-smoking campaign aimed at young people that includes educational programs, advertising and an enforcement arm. Under the enforcement program, police departments in Bucks recruit students to buy cigarettes in stores, then file charges against clerks and store owners who violate the law.
James Wall, enforcement coordinator for BEACON, said clerks and store owners face fines as high as $5,000 if they sell cigarettes to underage smokers.
Reynolds said when he speaks before school students, he tries to give them an upbeat message. He said recent studies have shown that a main reason teenagers start smoking is that they are worried about the future.
''If they are concerned about the future, they may think, 'Why not drink, smoke and do drugs?' I do what I can to inspire them about having faith in the future.''
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