Patrick Reynolds speaks from experience when he describes the effects of tobacco - the experience of losing more than his share of family members to cancer because of tobacco use, and experience from the perspective of the tobacco distributor.
Reynolds is a grandson of the founder of the huge R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, but he was in Salt Lake City this week to bring teenagers a message about the dangers of tobacco use.An enthusiastic campaigner against smoking and cigarette advertising, Reynolds is a survivor in a family that has dwindled as a result of tobacco use - his grandfather, father, mother, aunts, brother and cousin all died of tobacco-related cancers.
At the Fall Conference of Substance Abuse and in a speech at West High School, Reynolds said tobacco kills more people each year than AIDS, alcohol, auto accidents, suicide, cocaine and heroin use combined. It was a message young people need to hear, and Reynolds is a credible spokesman.
Since nine of 10 smokers become addicted before the age of 19, Reynolds' warning was aimed at cigarette advertising targeting the young. He said bluntly that advertising is predatory. Its objective is to get young people addicted to tobacco.
Reynolds grew up hearing quite a different story. His family made a fortune in tobacco, and most members of his family smoked. But he also saw for himself the ravages of tobacco use. He is now outspoken against tobacco companies and especially against tobacco lobbyists and the money they spend to influence members of Congress.
He told the high school audience that in the past decade, $16.7 million has been given to politicians by tobacco companies. And, as he said, "no corporations ever gave away that much money without expecting something in return."
Reynolds is a good example of a man who has learned from the mistakes of others - in his case, the fatal mistakes of his loved ones. He is trying now to teach that lesson to the potential victims of tobacco advertising.
Reynolds has divested all of his holdings in the tobacco company. He said he donated several shares given to him after the divestiture to a campaign in California to increase that state's cigarette tax.
He supports higher cigarette taxes in all states and lobbies for a total ban on cigarette advertising, saying that would be morally and ethically correct and citing other countries - France, Canada and Russia - that have taken that step.
Many people, including health and youth advocates, speak out against tobacco advertising, but Reynolds speaks with authority. Some politicians give lip service to the same proposals, but many are not willing to take action.
Patrick Reynolds is convincing because of what he has been willing to sacrifice in order to spread the anti-smoking word. He tells the truth in a way that is hard to ignore. He puts the cards on the table: There is nothing socially acceptable about smoking. It can and does kill people. He's a walking testament to how it can ruin lives.
But he believes young people are smart enough to choose not to become addicted. The United States will some day be smokeless, he says. We hope he is right.