By STEVE ROCK
The Kansas City Star
“One day, we will have a tobacco-free society. It’s coming, ladies and gentlemen,” Patrick Reynolds said Tuesday at a news conference in Kansas City.
A descendant of tobacco industry giant R.J. Reynolds took his anti-tobacco platform to Missouri on Tuesday.
Patrick Reynolds, grandson of R.J. Reynolds, made an appearance at the American Cancer Society office in Kansas City and pledged his support for Amendment 3. The amendment, which goes before Missouri voters Nov. 7, would increase cigarette taxes from 17 cents a pack to 97 cents a pack and would triple taxes on other tobacco products.
“I’ve seen the wealth tobacco can bring,” said Reynolds, who lives in California. “I’ve also seen (the) disease and sadness it can bring.”
Reynolds should know.
An unlikely crusader against Big Tobacco for 20 years, he has seen his father and brother — as well as other family members — succumb to diseases caused by tobacco. He divested himself of all Reynolds stock in 1979, he said, and disassociated himself entirely from the company.
By 1986, he had quit smoking and begun speaking publicly about the evils of tobacco. He founded The Foundation for a Tobaccofree Earth in 1989 and now dedicates his life to speaking out against an industry that created the family empire.
“My family …” he said, a smile sneaking across his lips, “sometimes they don’t like me so much.”
Speaking at a news conference attended largely by health officials, he talked about how Missouri has one of the highest smoking rates and one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation. He talked about tobacco-prevention programs that have been successful in other states and said Missouri should dedicate significant money to comparable initiatives.
“Our kids in Missouri have really been betrayed,” he said.
The tax increases would generate an estimated $351 million annually to increase Medicaid fees for health-care providers, and fund health-care programs for the uninsured and anti-smoking programs.
Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which opposes the amendment, called Reynolds’ appearance in Missouri a “gimmick” that wouldn’t sway “common-sense Missourians.”
“No matter whom the proponents trot out or what the proponents say, Amendment 3 is not about smoking or the dangers of tobacco,” Leone said. “Instead, it’s about the greed of corporate health care, and it’s about the government wasting even more of our taxpayer dollars.”