Grandson of tobacco magnate condemns smoking

Butler Middle School • Patrick Reynolds warns students about health risks of smoking, chewing.
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Midvale • Patrick Reynolds turned his back on his family, and he hopes everyone else does, too.

Reynolds is the grandson of R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco magnate whose brands include Camel, Winston, Salem and others. He spoke to Butler Middle School students Monday, denouncing his grandfather's product.

"I wanted someone in my family to be on the right side for a change," Reynolds told students, noting his family's name appears on 7 billion packs of cigarettes each year.

"I will do this work the rest of my life," said Reynolds, who has testified to Congress and has long supported and lobbied for anti-tobacco policies and legislation. He said his family "might not agree" with his stance, but he believes "deep down" they feel good about his work, which he views as a "calling."

"I respect that guy a ton," said eighth-grader Branson Horton after the speech. "His grandpa was the top smoking guy in the country, and now he's going against tobacco and drugs."

Reynolds, whose father died from tobacco use, delivered an impassioned speech, using the word "evil" several times when speaking of the methods the tobacco industry employs to ensnare teens. He told students that 1,200 people die from tobacco use each day in the U.S., a number ninth-grader Annie Vreeke described as "mind-boggling." Reynolds condemned Hollywood stars who portray smoking as cool in movies, and warned about cigarette companies' plan to get young people addicted.

"Nine out of 10 people get hooked before their 19th birthday in the U.S.," said Reynolds, executive director of the Foundation for a Smokefree America. "They know if they do not get you by age 19, they will not get you, likely."

Several teens vowed they wouldn't be "gotten."

"The advertising [methods] really open your eyes," said eighth-grader Rachel Cockayne. "You're like, 'Wow, they really do not care about the people they're killing.' I have relatives that smoke and I've always thought, 'I never want that to be me.' "

Reynolds offered advice on how to convince a loved one to quit smoking. First, he advised students to sparingly confront an addict about his or her smoking.

"No more than three times a year," he said. "Or else, you're a yucky, obnoxious nag."

He suggested starting the conversation with a compliment or pleasant memory: "Remember the time we went fishing. I liked spending that time with you."

Next, express honest feelings. Reynolds recommended starting a sentence with "and I feel" instead of "but I feel." Finally, ask them to quit: "I want you to stop. I love you so much. I need you so much."

The issue hits home for Butler PTSA president Julie Schwartz, who helped organize the event for Red Ribbon Week and whose mother died in 2003 from tobacco use.

"I don't want [students] to go through that," she said. "I wanted them to hear the reality of what can happen."

Reynolds didn't hold back, showing photos of people who had missing lower jaws and tongues after using chewing tobacco. He told the story of Sean Marsee, a track star who died at 19 after becoming addicted to "dipping."

Schwartz hopes students got the point, noting "in middle school, you have to be cool."

Reynolds' advice to students: "Find more original ways to express who you are as individual, fantastic, young people."