October 13, 2006
The Ridgewood News
Kids get anti-smoking message
from former big tobacco heir
by Tom Tauchert
Charges that tobacco companies target youth in their advertising campaigns
and Hollywood unnecessarily glamorizes smoking in their films are not
unique. What is unexpected, however, is the outspoken source of some of
Patrick Reynolds, grandson of tobacco company founder R.J. Reynolds (owner
of the Camel and Winston brands), has been campaigning for two decades to
remove all cigarette advertising and has made it his mission to motivate
youth to stay tobacco-free and empower smokers to quit. He brought his
message to Ridgewood this week, addressing the students at George Washington
and Benjamin Franklin middle schools on Wednesday in humorous yet sobering
presentations. The talk was sponsored by The Valley Hospital.
Reynolds spoke of how seeing his father, brother and other relatives die
from cigarette-induced emphysema, heart disease and cancer inspired him to
found the Foundation for a Smokefree America. Through the use of slides, he
showed photos of his father as he remembers him as a child, breathing
through the use of oxygen tanks before he died when Patrick was still a
"That had a lot to do with why I turned my back on my family, the company
and my heritage. My dad motivated my whole campaign," he said. "Once you
start smoking, you cannot stop."
Citing statistics that a young person can become addicted by only smoking
one to three cigarettes per day and that six out of 10 smokers began their
habit before age 14, Reynolds made his points that tobacco companies go
after young customers every year.
Another bone of contention with Reynolds is the sight of popular actors and
actresses lighting up in film after film and rarely being shown suffering
any of the consequences.
"We see movie stars smoking and making it look cool. We idolize them - even
some of us do as adults," he said. "I don't think we should censor them and
say 'you can't show them smoking' but have people cough or have other people
complain. When Julia Roberts, Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke and Gweneth Paltrow
are making it look cool - shame on them. I'm just saying, show it in a
Reynolds pointed to figures that while tobacco companies were spending $5
billion a year in advertising a decade ago, that number has tripled in years
since and because 1,200 people die every year from smoking-related
illnesses, the logical target audience for Big Tobacco is obvious. "Who can
we get? Kids."
Candy-flavored cigarettes infuriate Reynolds and make him "angry this kind
of an ad is even allowed in this country," but he is particularly outraged
by ads for menthols, which are popular in the black community. Menthol ads
often feature blacks and come in special-edition packages with DJs and
rappers performing at a youth party.
"These are the most offensive of all," Reynolds said. "One day, perhaps when
we get more forward thinking in the courts, we may see a change in the way
things are done and monitoring this kind of speech."
Lightening the mood some, Reynolds asked "What if tobacco ads told the
truth?" and showed some humorous phony cigarette ads like one featuring
co-workers gathered outside a 'No Smoking' sign coughing and hacking as they
inhaled their cigarettes; and another entitled 'Joe Chemo' which offered a
variation of the popular Joe Camel cartoon, sitting in a hospital bed and
hooked up to an IV.
Reynolds lampooned the wild horses and cowboys bonding around a fire image
so prevalent in past cigarette advertisements and the message that real
friends share cigarettes with each other.
"It's on the way out. It is so 20th century," Reynolds declared to
thunderous applause from his young audience.
In another playful moment, Reynolds called two volunteers from the audience.
They practiced ways they could approach a loved one they wanted to quit
smoking and acted out the scene before the school.
"You only get to do this three times a year," Reynolds announced, insisting
that a compliment and a smile be included with the request. "Otherwise you
are a yucky, obnoxious nag."
Things took a more serious tone when Reynolds discussed chewing tobacco and
the measures the tobacco industry took to increase it's appeal."Eight decades ago, only a few old men were chewing tobacco but they did
something sneaky. They began paying baseball players to chew," he said. "And
did you know when you go into a store and see cigarettes displayed, it's
because the store is getting paid every month? They put it right next to the
candy and gum. Right where kids are going to look. After a while, you got
curious and said, 'I'm going to get a can of that.'"
As a picture of handsome, all-American looking student appeared onscreen,
Reynolds then told the sobering story of young Sean Marsee, a high school
track star who picked up the habit of chewing tobacco from his friends on
the team. After several failed attempts to quit, Marsee developed tongue
cancer and had to have his tongue removed. Unable to speak or taste food the
way he once had, things only got worse for Marsee as the cancer had spread
to his jaw. After losing part of his nose and his jaw to the disease, Marsee
eventually died of cancer at the age of 19. The before and after images of the boy drew multiple gasps from those in attendance.
"There are many wondrous things to come in your life," Reynolds said. "And
you will want your health for all of them."
For more information visit www.tobaccofree.org.