|World Photos by Madeline Steege
More than 1,000 students and faculty filled the auditorium at
Marshfield High School on Thursday morning to hear Patrick J.
Reynolds, right, talk about teenagers smoking and how best to
quit. Reynolds is the grandson of R.J. Reynolds, founder of
Reynolds Tobacco Company, the nation’s largest cigarette
Smoking scion wages war against tobacco
Every war has its share of high stakes, devious
strategy and espionage. According to Patrick Reynolds, the war
against tobacco is no different.
Reynolds' grandfather was
the infamous tobacco industry tycoon R.J. Reynolds, who founded the
RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, which produces Camel, Salem-Winston and
other cigarette brands. Now the grandson has established his own
organization - The Foundation for a Smokefree America. The
well-known anti-smoking advocate addressed more than 1,500 Coos Bay
students last week, encouraging kids at Sunset Middle School and
Marshfield High School, not to smoke.
“Oregon is ranked the 35th state in funding tobacco
prevention programs,” Reynolds said, “even as the state collects
$307.5 million a year in revenues from tobacco.”
Lung Association gave Oregon a failing grade this year, for
prevention programs and regulating youth access to tobacco. Reynolds
advocates the state increase spending on prevention programs.
According to www.smokefree.org, states that follow the U.S. Center
for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for funding
tobacco prevention, such as Florida, California, Mississippi and
Maine, have seen a 50-percent reduction in smoking by middle school
students, and a 35-percent reduction in teen smoking.
Marshfield auditorium was filled with students and staff, the
rafters buzzing with more than a thousand conversations. Reynolds
bonded with the audience immediately, merging the prestigious
history of his family with the reckless truth of his own upbringing
and a few skeletons in the Reynolds family closet.
said he never knew his father, Richard Joshua Reynolds, Jr., as his
parents divorced in his formative years. After watching his father
and older brother, R.J. Reynolds III, die from smoking-related
emphysema, Reynolds said he turned his back on the tobacco industry
and his heritage - to fight the influence of smoking in
Despite some commotion in
corners of the auditorium throughout the assembly, the energy in the
room was focused squarely on Reynolds. But it was when he asked how
many students are living without a father in the home, that he
really connected with the students. In a hall built for more than
1,100 students, more than 60 percent of the teens raised a hand in
Using his own experience as a child from a broken
home, a teenager and later a man, disillusioned by the addictive and
dangerous qualities of tobacco, Reynolds swept into the meat of his
discussion: the risks, consequences and underhanded tactics of
smoking and tobacco companies.
“Sixty percent of all smokers
start before the age of 14, and 90 percent become addicted before
reaching 19,” he said. “After 19, hardly anyone starts to smoke.
That's why it's so important to reach the young early, and empower
them to stay smoke free.
If they don't get you by then, they
For about an hour, Reynolds encouraged
students to stay in touch with their true feelings about smoking and
tobacco advertisements targeted to youth. He led a demonstration to
help teens ask parents, siblings or friends to stop smoking, and
discussed how difficult it is for most smokers and tobacco users to
“Most tobacco users try and fail, only to try again and
fail. It takes an average of 17 years for smokers to quit,” he
Too young to die
The audience was periodically
restless, but when Reynolds displayed a photo of 17-year-old Sean
Marsee, an American student who died at the age of 19 from chewing
tobacco, the auditorium fell silent. No feet shuffled, no hushed
voices spoke and silence reigned over more than 1,100
According to Reynolds, Marsee was an award-winning
track star in Oklahoma, who started chewing tobacco, or “dipping,”
in his teens. A local hero and well-known athlete, Marsee tried to
give up the tobacco, but couldn't. After a year of dipping he
discovered a cancerous sore the size of a half-dollar on his
“Kids think it can't happen to them, that smoking
isn't that dangerous. But Sean was shocked to learn he had to have
most of his tongue cut out,” Reynolds said. “He would never be able
to talk again. He was 18 years old.”
The audience seemed to
be holding its collective breath as students solemnly listened to
Marsee's story, shocked into silence by by the gruesome
Reynolds went on
The cancer spread down Marsee's
jaw and into his neck muscles. He had several operations that left
him disfigured, Reynolds said, switching the photograph to a very
changed young man, hooked to various machines.
The hall was
filled with a low rumble and quiet gasps as students saw Marsee's
deformed face. And no matter whether Reynolds said another word, he
had made his point.
“Not long after that, Sean expressed a
simple affirmation of his Christian faith, and died - sad,
disfigured and in terrible, unspeakable pain,” he said, his voice
hushed in the silent hall.
“If you're addicted to something,
get in a program, get help. Connect with another person. Speak with
your school nurse, your school counselor - you won't get in trouble.
That's what they're there for,” Reynolds said. “Hold onto your
health. You will need it for the incredible future ahead of us
Student voices filled the hall moments later as teens
headed to the cafeteria or to their next class - while others,
undoubtedly, left campus to smoke.
Marshfield Dean of
Students Gael Berhow said students from the Harding Learning Center
were specifically invited to the assembly, as more than half smoke.
Some of the students were loud and disruptive in the back of the
hall, she said, but no one was removed.
“They weren't ready
for this message, but I wish they could have really heard this,” she
Other students were more receptive to Reynolds'
Emily Miller, 16, said the assembly didn't
change her mind about smoking, since she doesn't smoke, but she
hoped it affected some of her friends who do.
“I know a lot
of kids think it's a cool thing, but I always thought smoking was
bad news,” she said. “My mom smokes, and she's always telling me not
As a cheerleader, Miller said she didn't have a lot of
breath to spare puffing on a cigarette.
Reynolds, the Marshfield audience was very receptive and energetic.
He said he was very encouraged by the interaction from students, but
it's difficult to gauge the effectiveness of a single
“I think I stirred things around gently today,” he
said, “and I think that's a good thing.”
For more information
on the smokefree movement, those interested can go to