By Courtney Cavanaugh Staff writer

Community Unit District 200 high school students got an insider’s look at the dangers of smoking and tobacco use when Patrick Reynolds, grandson of tobacco producer R.J. Reynolds, visited the district’s two high schools April 13.

The Reynolds family’s cigarette brands, Camel and Winston, killed Reynolds’ eldest brother and father, causing him to devote his time to educating people about the dangers of smoking. Reynolds, who first spoke out before Congress in 1986, is the first tobacco industry figure to speak out against cigarettes.

His appearance at Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South high schools is sponsored by Central DuPage Hospital and the DuPage Coalition Against Tobacco. Other sponsors include the DuPage County Health Department, the Cancer Institute of Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, the American Cancer Society and Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare.

Joan Burtnette, department chair of Community Unit School District 200 nurses, said many kids start smoking at a young age, and the anti-smoking message is one that can never be heard too early.

“It’s a message that needs to be heard over and over again,” she said. “Tobacco’s not going away in a hurry. They continue to promote and advertise and reach people. So, as long as that continues to happen, we need to get the message out there that tobacco is (harmful).”

Reynolds also appeared at several DuPage County high schools, speaking to about 3,200 young people.

The DuPage County Health Department and Central DuPage Hospital, along with the American Cancer Society, presented the event as part of national Kick Butts Day April 13.

Renee Kosiarek, who has lost family members to lung cancer, and Dr. Jeffry Huml, a pulmonologist at CDH, also spoke about the dangers of tobacco product use.

Reynolds, who didn’t live with his father, recalled the first time he met him as a child, and how his father was having trouble breathing. He asked his dad about it and he told him it was asthma, but his father ended up eventually dying from emphysema when Reynolds was 16, he said.

“If I could give you one message today, it would be that cigarettes are addicting,” he said. “Once you start, you can’t stop.”

He said it only takes two weeks for people to become addicted, and many try to quit, but attempts with the aid of patches and gum all fail. And the habit is not only deadly but expensive.

“Hello!” he said. “There’s a lot better things to do with your money than to spend $1,200 on tobacco a year.”

Reynolds told students how they can approach the subject of quitting smoking with those they love, saying second-hand smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease.

Then he had one WWS student bring a friend out of the audience, someone she said she would like to see stop smoking. He showed the students how to begin with a compliment, so as to open the lines of communication, and use feeling words such as “sad” and “afraid.”

“Kids whose parents smoke in the house have more bronchial problems and asthma,” he said. “It’s reality.”

Reynolds ended his presentation with a story that made many of the students gasp.

He told the story of an Oklahoma high school track star named Sean Marsee, who began using chewing tobacco at age 12, and tried to quit but continually failed.

The whole time Reynold’s told Sean’s story how he developed tongue cancer and had to have his tongue amputated; how his cancer came back and he had to have part of his jaw and nose removed; and how he had to have a hole cut in his neck and a breathing tube inserted he showed a school portrait of the handsome, young athlete.

He ended the discussion with a photo of Sean Marsee before his death at the age of 19, looking very different from the first photo, attached to machines and breathing apparatuses, and clinging to life.

“I’m grossed out right now, cause I play sports,” WWS freshman Kyle Cassin said at the conclusion of the program. “It just freaks me out. It’s like, ‘No way.'”

WWS freshman Jay Dragon said he would never smoke, adding his mom used to smoke, but she quit.

“I felt glad (when she quit) because I thought her health would fail and I would lose her,” he said.”

Nancy Eismon, a registered nurse with CDH, said she hopes the program helps the students, and helps them with friends and family members who smoke.

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