BERLIN — In a presentation that became emotional at several points, Patrick Reynolds, anti-smoking advocate and grandson of a tobacco company founder, spoke to youth at Worcester Prepatory School about the dangers of the product that made his family a fortune.
“I am angry about what the tobacco industry is doing … it is outrageous what they are getting away with doing,” he told a room of students.
When his grandfather first began the Reynolds Company, which produces the Camel, Winston and Salem brands of cigarettes, Reynolds explained that the dangerous effects of tobacco were still relatively unknown. However, within the last 100 years, the truth about tobacco has finally come out.
“Smoking is addictive; once you start you cannot stop,” he said. “It as addictive as heroin or cocaine.”
Both Reynolds father, older brother and other members of his family have died from cigarette induced emphysema and lung-cancer, prompting him to add as much personal resonance into his message as he could.
“He was dying right in front of my eyes,” he said of his father, whom he didn’t meet until he was 9 years old. Reynolds father passed away when he was 15.
Reynolds presentation further focused on several troubling aspects of tobacco culture today, including its glamorization in movies, marketing towards children and his belief that it serves as a stepping stone to drugs.
“It is a gateway to marijuana,” he opined.
According to Reynolds, the ads that portray the dangers of tobacco are overshadowed by marketing efforts by cigarette companies to make smoking look cool.
Reynolds pointed to movies, both classic and current, that feature the characters smoking. He showed famous examples like Humphrey Bogart as well as more modern actors like James Franco and Robert Pattinson. He bashed the actors for not being more aware of their position as role models.
“It’s a betrayal of you,” Reynolds said.
Even more disgraceful, in Reynolds opinion, is the tobacco industry’s history of targeting minors through the use of cartoon mascots and candy-like flavors in cigarettes and other products.
“They know that if they don’t get you by 19 they won’t get you as a customer,” he said.
In Reynolds estimation, smokers can spend as much as $1,500 to $2,000 a year if they just buy a pack of cigarettes a day. This is further exacerbated by rising tobacco taxes, which are becoming more and more common in states like Maryland. Reynolds stressed it’s a good thing.
“Tobacco taxes are a good tax,” he said, noting that they had the double benefit of discouraging teens from picking up the habit while encouraging adults to quit by making smoking not just a long-term health problem but a short-term financial one as well.
Reynolds ended his presentation on a more intimate note. He took students through what he called an “initiation” towards adulthood and helped individual members of the audience work on ways to tell people that they care about them and that smoking is hurting everyone around them and unnecessarily risking their life. It was a process that led to a few tears.
“Face the pain and talk to another person about it,” he begged the students.
In parting, Reynolds revealed that despite all of the problems that still exist with smoking and other products like chewing tobacco, which he warned can be just as dangerous, he is optimistic about where the country is headed.
“We are going to have a tobacco-free society,” he predicted, adding that it would be up to the youngest generation today to succeed where others have failed.