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NWAnews.com Northwest Arkansas Times

Advocate addresses tobacco prevention seminar at UA

Posted on Thursday, May 13, 2004

There was little doubt in Patrick Reynolds’ mind that he was "preaching to the choir" Wednesday afternoon, but it was perfectly fine with him.

His message, and the intensity in which it was delivered, would remain the same no matter what kind of audience was on hand. "One day we will have a tobacco-free society," said Reynolds. "We’re going to have it because you are the future."

He was one of the featured speakers at a tobacco prevention symposium of Northwest Arkansas area health care professionals, researchers, attorneys and "grass roots" antismoking advocates.

Reynolds’ unique — some would say ironic — family background helps in his quest to make America a smoke-free society: Reynolds is a grandson of R. J. Reynolds, founder of the tobacco company that produces Camel, Winston and Salem cigarettes, among others.

The two-day symposium at the Arkansas Union Ballroom was presented by the Tobacco Control Center at the University of Arkansas School of Law and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law.

Jacqueline Gaithe, the Tobacco Control Center’s director, said the seminar was staged to provide tobacco education relating to physiological effects and national trends in regulations and ordinances. "We are presenting information for people to take back to their communities for education purposes," said Gaithe. "We hope those who attended this conference will leave well equipped to continue their efforts in making Arkansas a healthy place to live."

Reynolds is commonly cited as the first tobacco industry figure to turn his back on the cigarette companies.

Speaking before Congress in 1986, Reynolds urged a ban on all cigarette advertising. He testified again in 1987, joining the effort to bring about a smoking ban on airplanes.

He has made numerous appearances on network and cable television news shows to discuss issues concerning tobacco use and its dangers. "Some people think the $246 billion settlement against the tobacco industry means we’ve won the battle," Reynolds said. "That simply isn’t true. We’ve made tremendous progress, but the fight must go on."

The origins of Reynolds ’ anti-smoking stance can be traced to childhood. His parents divorced when he was 3 years old. Six years passed before he saw his father again. "I was 9 and so excited about the prospect of finally seeing my father," Reynolds explained. "I went into the room and he was lying on the floor. They said he had asthma. It was really emphysema."

A half-dozen years later, R. J. Reynolds Jr. died. Patrick Reynolds was 15.

Since that time he became devoted to the cause of tobacco education and prevention.

He feels local governments and the judiciary have been the greatest allies in the anti-tobacco campaign.

The federal government, however, gets low marks on the issue from Reynolds. "Corporations, including those in the tobacco industry, have amassed huge amounts of influence at the federal level," said Reynolds. "They gain power through lobbying and campaign contributions to politicians. The only check we have on these corporations is the government."

According to Reynolds, roughly 80 percent of recent corporate campaign contributions have gone to Republican office seekers and holders. "I believe the primary reason for Congress’ stunning leniency on Big Tobacco has been our system of campaign finance," says Reynolds.

He suggested the addictive reliance on cigarettes, alcohol or drugs is done "to avoid our pain." "Life is not meant to be easy — it’s difficult by design," Reynolds said. "It’s by our personal struggles that we build and define our character. Dealing with life’s obstacles and failures empowers each of us to become stronger and to reach our full potential as adult men and women."

Another topic addressed by Reynolds was teen smoking in America. Between 1988 and 1998, smoking rates among teenagers soared by 73 percent.

A Centers For Disease Control and Prevention study suggested that cigarette advertising campaigns targeting youths, such as the cartoon Camel and the Marlboro Man, were a significant factor in the dramatic upsurge in teen smoking. The study also pointed to a substantial increase in the amount smoking in television and movies by actors and actresses.

Reynolds also believes diminished expectations and heightened anxiety among today’s teens, documented in new research, is a significant factor. "Since the (Sept. 11, 2001) attack and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, many of our youth are more worried about the years ahead," said Reynolds. "It is documented that following 9-11, there was a significant upsurge in smoking among New York teens.

" Believing they face a bleak future, many teens may be prone to engage in highrisk behaviors before an uncertain tomorrow arrives, "he added.

Other speakers at Wednesday’s session of the symposium included Josh Alpert, program manager for Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation; Kit Williams, Fayetteville city attorney; Shirley Lucas, Fayetteville City Council member; and Kathleen Hoke Dachille from the University of Maryland School of Law Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation and Advocacy.

Thursday’s schedule was slated to include remarks by Kirsten Heintz of the American Cancer Society regarding" Communities of Excellence in Tobacco Control Training. "

Reynolds stated most antismoking groups, including his own Foundation for a Smoke-free America, do not seek the complete eradication of tobacco products.

" We just want reasonable laws to protect our children, "Reynolds said." They deserve safeguards from a cynical industry that cares only about financial gain. "

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