Patrick Reynolds is the grandson of the late RJ Reynolds, whose company produces cigarette brands Camel, Monarch and Winston. Reynolds says his father’s death from emphysema caused by years of smoking is why he’s trying to help others through The Foundation for a Smokefree America.
“I started smoking myself at 17 and quitting was one of the hardest things I ever did. I failed eleven times. Finally got in a program,” explains Reynolds.
He’s an unlikely advocate for avoiding cigarettes, but his father’s death when he was 15 had a profound effect on him.
Although Reynolds says it wasn’t until he became an adult that he fully understood the impact.
“I remember him gasping for breath. And they say that you find your calling where you’ve been hurt the most deeply,” he says. “As a Reynolds I have a great platform to make a difference on this issue and for over 20 years I’ve been fighting for smoking bans, laws limiting smoking in the workplace when they were controversial and now they’re not.”
Reynolds says with mounting evidence showing the dangerous effects of smoking, it’s time states use more money generated from cigarette sales for tobacco prevention and cessation. “South Carolina is only spending $5 million dollars a year and they’re taking in over $250 million a year in revenue,” he adds.
Reynolds would also like to see a greater effort to protect non-smokers, “There’s an overwhelming body of scientific proof that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer causes heart disease banning it and protecting non-smokers is just an idea whose time has arrived.”
He also answers criticism that attacks on the tobacco industry hurts farmers, “The tobacco companies moved most of the tobacco farming overseas. And they’ve been paying the slave wages to workers in third world poor nations even in China. And it brought the price of tobacco down to the point where a lot of tobacco farmers are now making the transition to fruit and vegetable production profitably they’re planting things now that nourish people and don’t poison people.”
His message is in line with the non-profit Smoke Free Horry. Pauline Levesque serves as youth coordinator for the group. She’s also a former smoker and is now working to educate the community and help other kick the habit, “The message and the hope is that people will take advantage of resources that are available to them the youth that they will not start smoking to be cool and they’ll maintain their health throughout their life.”
Reynolds makes a special effort to reach out to the youth because, “The tobacco companies know that if they don’t get you to start smoking before the age of 19 they’re not going to get you as a customer.”
You might be wondering if Reynolds is living off “tobacco money.” He says he’s sold all his shares with the company and adds what little he did inherit he’s spent towards his efforts for a tobacco-free America.
Reynolds is speaking tonight at 6pm at an event at Horry Georgetown Technical College in the Burroughs and Chapin Auditorium.
In all, 40 cities have smoking bans in place. Next Monday the City of North Myrtle Beach will have a first reading of a smoking ban.