R.J. Reynolds' heir gives anti-smoking message
STURGEON BAY - An unlikely general is leading "The Battle for a Smoke-Free Society."
Patrick Reynolds of Los Angeles - a grandson of R.J. Reynolds, founder of the tobacco company that makes Camel cigarettes - will be in Door County this week to speak about the dangers of tobacco addiction.
Reynolds is prominently featured in a current television ad campaign in which he identifies his family's ties to Big Tobacco, talks about the dangers of smoking and says cigarette companies have a history of lying about those health threats.
He concludes the spot with a rhetorical question and answer: "Why am I telling you this? Because I want my family to be on the right side for a change."
His four appearances here will include an open, town hall-style session for families, educators, health providers or anyone interested, scheduled for 6 p.m. today in the Sturgeon Bay High School gymnasium. There is no admission charge.
Reynolds will also speak at 1:30 p.m. today to Gibraltar Schools students at the adjacent Door Community Auditorium in Fish Creek; at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday to students at Sevastopol Schools; and at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to students at Sturgeon Bay High School and T.J. Walker Middle School.
Reynolds travels the country, talking to students to motivate them to stay tobacco-free or to give up the habit. His crusade started in 1986, when he became the first tobacco-industry figure to turn his back on cigarette makers.
Although he was never formally associated with R.J. Reynolds Co., Patrick Reynolds sold his share of the company's stock and went on the road, telling people of the health dangers associated with tobacco and how giant tobacco companies mislead and recruit would-be smokers.
"I don't mince words," Reynolds said in a brief telephone interview Wednesday. "I'm 'anti the tobacco industry,' which targets kids and hides the dangers of tobacco when they know differently. I tell how sneaky the tobacco industry is."
He receives no financial backing from the family's tobacco holdings. Indeed, he said, "They don't like me very much."
Reynolds' motivation to begin a crusade against smoking and smokeless tobacco came after his father died from smoking.
In his presentations to students, Reynolds remembers a reunion that he, at the age of 9, had with his father after a six-year absence.
"I was saddened to find my dad lying down, on his back, gasping for breath," Reynolds tells his audiences. "He was dying from emphysema, caused by smoking the cigarettes that made our family wealthy.
"I only got to see him on five visits after that, and every time he was increasingly sick and frail and counting the time he had left to live. My dad died from smoking. I was 15. That's largely why I'm devoting my life to the anti-smoking cause and to educating our young people about cigarettes and smoking."