Discover why the grandson of a man who built a tobacco empire advocates against using the products his family sells, when he speaks to students at David Douglas High School …
Memories of his father dying is what spurs Patrick Reynolds to take action, he says – speaking with youth about the benefits of leading a tobacco-free lifestyle.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Patrick Reynolds strode into David Douglas High School’s Performing Arts Center like a man on a mission, on March 6. In fact, he said, he was on a mission.
“I’m here, primarily, because my only memories of my father – R.J. Reynolds, Jr. – are of seeing him dying from smoking,” Reynolds said in the lobby.
“I chose to turn my back on my heritage, and to do everything that I can to stop kids from starting smoking,” Reynolds continued. “I’ve been advocating for a number of [anti-tobacco] laws around the country. I’ll do this work for the rest of my life.”
Student Body President Tanner Adrian welcomes Patrick Reynolds to David Douglas High School.
Before speaking out publicly against tobacco use, Reynolds said he held a “family conference” with his brothers. “We had some heated discussions. They thought my speaking out might cause [their company] stock to go down. Or, that I could be an embarrassment to my family.”
But instead of embarrassing his family, “After being presented a number of awards and honors – if anything, I have brought goodwill and honor to the family name. And the price of the stock has kept going up. I think they’re mollified, although they didn’t like the book that I wrote about the family, ‘The Gilded Leaf’.
“Returning to the present,” Reynolds continued, “I was thrilled to learn yesterday that the Oregon State legislature just passed the ‘Youth Access Law’. It’s been too easy for kids to get cigarettes in Oregon.”
Every year, the American Long Association issues a “report card”, Reynolds observed. “Oregon gets a ‘D’ on tobacco taxes only – $1.18 pack – the national average is a $1.39. Tobacco taxes look pretty darn good to voters. It stops kids who were starting to smoke, and incentivizes smokers to quit.
“Oregon gets an ‘F’ in spending on tobacco prevention,” Reynolds went on, saying that funds from increased taxes are typically put toward tobacco prevention programs.
Patrick Reynolds says he decries the tobacco industry “targeting” kids as customers.
Says cigs are target-marketed to kids
Commenting that he’d also appeared in area grade and middle schools, Reynolds said, “I’m so glad that Adventist Medical Center brought me here to speak to young people. That’s because we can make a difference in the rate which they begin smoking. When I talk about my dad dying from tobacco, it makes an emotional connection with them.
“This is important, because big companies are targeting our kids, trying to get them hooked on smoking before they’re adults,” added Reynolds. “If these kids are not aware they’re being targeted – they certainly will be, by the time I’m done with them!”
With warmth and conviction, Reynolds stepped before the David Douglas High “health and wellness” program students, and made his case.
“Tobacco is addicting,” Reynolds tells students.
“If I can give you one message today, it’s that tobacco is addicting. Once you start, you can’t stop. Even with the best programs that we have, 85 out of 100 people go back to smoking within 12 months. With no program, it’s 95 out of a 100 who go back to smoking.
“If you’re a smoker, or if you know a smoker, do your best to get them into a smoking cessation program,” he pleaded.
“The people who do well in life connect with other people – they get help. Quitting smoking is the same – whether through Nicotine Anonymous, or by using a nicotine replacement like the ‘patch’, or gum – do something to help them get through the detoxification process.”
Toward the end of his talk, Reynolds told the students how, in ancient cultures, ritual initiation was practiced – typically involving fear and pain. “Perhaps something I’ve said here today has made you fearful, or to feel pain.
“The essence of my message is that life is going to bring you some pain. It’s not easy out there! Members of your family will die, friends will die – when painful moments come, some go to a bar and drink their troubles away, or take drugs and destroy their future or their life, or a light a cigarette and watch the smoke curl in the air. I didn’t do any of these things, and you don’t have to either.”
Instead of dealing with life’s problems through drink, drugs, or tobacco, Reynolds urges students to learn to “connect” with others, and get help.
Mature people talk about their pain, Reynolds said. “If you’re facing pain, talk to a trusted adult – perhaps a teacher, a parent, or a counselor. Get help, and connect with another person. ‘Initiation into life’ is learning to solve problems together with others.”
In conclusion, he said, “Hold on to your health. There are amazing and glorious times coming to you. Whatever problems we have, we will solve them together. Beyond that, you’re going to need your health, so hold on to it. One day we will have a tobacco free society. You are the future. I believe in you.”
To learn more about Reynolds, The Foundation for a Smokefree America, and his mission, see his website: CLICK HERE.
© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News