By BECKY BROOKS
CLYDE — “My only memory of my father is of a man lying down dying from emphysema,” the great-grandson of tobacco mogul R.J. Reynolds Sr. shared back stage in the Clyde High School auditorium Tuesday morning.
Patrick Reynolds, a nationally recognized anti-tobacco advocate, shared his thoughts with seventh graders from McPherson Middle School and St. Mary’s School.
Before talking with the students, Reynolds shared that since speaking at a Congressional hearing in 1986 about banning cigarette advertising, he has worked to make a difference.
He explained in a media interview that seventh grade was the age where youth start turning away from their parents’ advice. “They tend to disbelieve everything an adult says,” he added.
On stage, Reynolds shared the story of his childhood in the Reynolds family – a divorce and not meeting his father until he was nine-years-old.
“I felt a little angry,” he told the pre-teens. Then when he finally met his father, R.J. Reynolds Jr., he was dying from using the product that had earned the family a fortune. “He died when I was 16.”
“Cigarettes are addictive,” Patrick Reynolds emphasized to the teens. “Once you start you can’t stop,” he said, adding that statistics show most adults will not start the habit.
“It means nobody starts smoking after 19,” he stressed, adding the tobacco industry then must aim its advertising at teens to gain new customers.
The speaker Tuesday was sponsored by The Bellevue Hospital, Fisher-Titus Medical Center and Mercy Willard Hospital Foundation. He was touring area schools and was slated to speak to 2,000 youths in Huron and Sandusky counties within two days.
Joann Ventura, marketing director for TBH, said that Bellevue and Immaculate Conception schools were slated to attend the Clyde engagement Tuesday, but school was closed there due to weather.
In the CHS auditorium, Reynolds polled the youth audience asking who had seen others their age smoking in the past week. Nearly 30 youths raised their hands. He asked how many has seen other youths using “chew” and 10 teens raised their hands. He continued polling the youths asking about the use of inhalants, marijuana and heroin – each time students raises their hands.
“If you smoke you are more likely to go onto other drugs,” he stressed. “A minimum wage job is out there just waiting for you – if you have it together enough to keep a job.”
Reynolds stressed, “Not all adults are looking out for your best interest.”
Reynolds presented a group of slides of cigarette advertisements promoting use of candy and liquor-flavored cigarettes, asking the audience who they thought the ads were aimed at – youths or adults.
“Once a teen gets hooked it takes an average 17 years,” he said about quitting.
Reynolds also invited two students to the front. Taylor Hyde-Norman said she would like to see her grandmother quit smoking. Using seventh grader Bennett Brown to stand in as a family member, Hyde-Norman had to pose her comments to Brown.
“I am a little angry that you smoke,” the girl said. “I want you to try and stop smoking.”
After the program, she commented, “I thought it was interesting. I listened to it.”
Another seventh grader in the audience, Caitlyn Hermes added, ” I thought it was a good idea.”
Reynolds also shared a story and photographs of a 17-year-old boy who developed tongue cancer from using chewing tobacco. The audience was pin-drop quiet when he showed them a photo of the former high school athlete who died of cancer at age 19.
He commented chewing tobacco had almost gone out of existence and became an old man’s tobacco when the tobacco industry spent $10 million to advertise the product using athlete endorsements to paid display placements on store counters next to the candy.
“Our kids got hooked,” he said.
At the end of his program, Reynolds told the youths to “hold onto their health.” Despite concerns about global warming, recession and wars, he commented there will be great days ahead.
“One day there will be a tobacco-free society,” he stood back on the stage and told the youths.