October 13, 2006
Front page

The Ridgewood News
Ridgewood, NJ

Kids get anti-smoking message
from former big tobacco heir

by Tom Tauchert
Features Editor


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 those claims.

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 teenager.

"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 different light."

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.