The Dirty Rotten Truth About Tobacco
Written and Illustrated by Pete Traynor
Foreword by Patrick Reynolds
THIS LANDMARK BOOK communicates to young people, in a colorful and compelling way, the dangers of cigarette smoking and tobacco addiction. It bares the truth about things children will never see in cigarette and tobacco ads, and sheds light on the people who make it all possible–the tobacco companies and the government.
I have a special interest in this issue because my grandfather, R.J. Reynolds, founded the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, now RJR Nabisco. They’re the makers of Camel cigarettes and the creators of Joe Camel. I’ve been around tobacco all my life, I’ve watched family members die from tobacco use, and I was once addicted to cigarettes myself.
My grandfather chewed tobacco and died of cancer of the pancreas. But when he began selling tobacco in 1875, attitudes were a lot different than they are today. There was
little knowledge about the danger of tobacco, and smoking or
chewing it was not a health concern.
Today, we know how deadly tobacco is. We know that cigarette
smoking is the most preventable cause of disease in history,
and that more than one thousand Americans die every day from
tobacco. We know that our children are all threatened by
tobacco addiction, and that it may one day take the lives of
the 26% who do become addicted. Today tobacco causes one out
of every six deaths.
In the 1960s, as a teenager, I watched my family suffer and
die from smoking-related diseases. My father, R.J. Reynolds,
Jr., died from emphysema after years of smoking–ironically,
the family brands Camel and Winston. Two of my father’s
sisters smoked and died of emphysema and cancer. And smoking
contributed to my mother’s death in 1985. My family has been
decimated by cigarettes.
At seventeen, I even became a cigarette smoker myself,
eventually getting up to smoking a pack of cigarettes daily.
I smoked for seventeen years and finally managed to quit
after countless attempts and failures. Tobacco is a very
strong addiction, and it was extremely difficult for me to
My grandfather had no idea that tobacco would become a
problem, or that we would need to protect our children from
the practices of tobacco companies, but it has happened. As a
matter of conscience, I took a stand against the industry
from which my family earned its living. I divested the R.J.
Reynolds stock I inherited, and have campaigned publicly ever
since against the dangers of tobacco and the tobacco industry
itself. In 1989, I founded Citizens for a Tobaccofree World
to further the fight against smoking. We’re based in Los
The battle against cigarette smoking and tobacco use has by
no means been won. The tobacco industry and its lobbyists are
more aggressive than ever. Cigarettes made by only six
companies–Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco, American Brands,
British American Tobacco, Loews, and Liggett Group–will kill
over 400,000 people this year, and the nicotine addiction
will sap the health of over 50 million people this year–in
the United States alone–while the tobacco industry’s slick,
articulate, and highly paid army of lobbyists, attorneys, and
public relations people attempt to convince the public and
lawmakers to believe that the facts aren’t in yet.
The tobacco industry has fought, and continues to fight,
every effort by public health forces to communicate the truth
about the dangers of smoking and limit the distribution of
cigarettes to children. The simple truth is that the tobacco
companies must always find new customers, because the product
they make kills the people they sell it to.
It certainly appears that the tobacco industry is trying to
turn the world’s children into a new generation of tobacco
users. In the United States, the tobacco companies bombard
the population with advertising images that are known to
appeal to kids. The tobacco companies deny that the ads are
intended to attract young people, but there is no denying
that cigarettes ads do attract young people–and that the
companies continue to run them.
According to studies published by the Journal of the American
Medical Association, six-year-old children recognize Joe
Camel as readily as they do Mickey Mouse. Thirty percent of
three-year-olds correctly matched up a picture of Smooth Joe
Camel with a picture of a cigarette, and 60% of six-year-olds
correctly made the match. Prior to the Smooth Joe Camel
campaign, Camel’s market share among children was 1%. Since
the ad campaign, it’s climbed to 32.8%.
Young people also find the Marlboro man, the Kool Penguin,
and the host of sports and entertainment personalities seen
in ads or juxtaposed with tobacco logos to be attractive.
Tobacco ads and images decorate race cars, racing boats, and
sports stadiums, giving the impression that tobacco and
athletics go hand-in-hand.
It’s pretty frightening, but the fact is that tobacco ads
reach kids and change their behavior. It is estimated that
illegal sales to children of cigarettes and other tobacco
products alone are now worth 1.26 billion dollars yearly.
Approximately half of the tobacco industry’s profits come
from sales of cigarettes to kids or to people who became
addicted to nicotine as children. Statistics, in fact, tell
us that 90% of all smokers are addicted by age 19, and 60%
start by age 14.
One important solution to this terrible problem is obvious.
We must ban all tobacco advertising in any form. The massive
amount of money the tobacco companies spend advertising each
year in the United States is equivalent to 10 dollars for
each man, woman, and child in the U.S. The only way to
protect our children from the propaganda of the tobacco
industry is to ban all advertising.
The tobacco industry claims that its right to advertise is
protected under the Freedom of Speech Amendment, but I
believe cigarette advertising is the biggest abuse of freedom
of speech ever committed. Tobacco ads, which associate
smoking with health, vitality, sports, youth, and friendship,
are the greatest lie ever perpetrated on the American public.
Philip Morris recently spent tens of millions of dollars
touring the Bill of Rights around the nation, and invited
thousands of school children to view it. Most kids could not
help seeing the Philip Morris logo, and perhaps associating
it–and the company’s products–with truth, justice, and
freedom. The fact is that Philip Morris’ ad campaign for the
Bill of Rights successfully diverted the public’s attention
away from how badly the company is abusing the right to
freedom of speech with their cigarette advertising.
Tobacco companies have aggressively been trying to get the
poor uneducated people in the Third World hooked on smoking.
Since 1968, worldwide smoking has actually increased by 73%.
In other countries where the laws protecting children are not
as strong as they are in the United States, the promoters of
tobacco go much farther than cool-looking ads. They actually
give free cigarettes to young people. They scatter them all
over video games in video arcades and hand them out at
concerts and on the street. They even give free cigarettes to
kids on recess at school.
Kids are encouraged to light up right on the spot. At rock
concerts and discos, kids are given free Marlboro sunglasses
for allowing their free Marlboro cigarettes to be lit. The
tobacco promoters are not giving out samples for fun; they
hope these kids will become customers. It has been said that
if a young person smokes a few packs, chances are that he or
she will be buying cigarettes for life. Some countries even
require no health warning labels and permit higher tar levels
in tobacco than United States law allows.
The atrocities committed against children in the Third World
by the tobacco companies are the most heinous of all. The
tobacco industry’s toll of addiction, disease, suffering, and
death is far greater than all the cocaine cartels and the
Mafia combined. This plague must be stopped.
As to the industrialized world, every single country is ahead
of the United States in one respect. The powerful tobacco
lobby that so influences the U.S. Congress has succeeded in
keeping American cigarette taxes the lowest of any
industrialized nation, making it easier for the tobacco
companies to sell their products here.
If American cigarette taxes were raised enough to cover the
health costs of smoking, each pack of cigarettes would have
to be taxed at least $2.17. It’s estimated that smoking is
presently costing the economy $52 billion per year–$30
billion in lst productivity, and $22 billion in medical
costs. And non-smokers, who make up 64% of the population,
are paying the great majority of these costs.
Congress must raise cigarette and tobacco taxes in the United
This important step will make cigarettes less accessible to
children and ensure that smokers pay their own health care
costs. We need to make our voices heard above the roar of the
tobacco lobby that influences our lawmakers.
The battle will not be won until the day the last smoker puts
out the last cigarette. We have a lot of work to do, and the
immediate task is to see that all tobacco advertising is
banned, that the export of U.S. cigarettes to foreign
countries is limited, that cigarettes are no longer sold to
children or in vending machines, and that smoking laws are
enacted and tobacco is justly taxed. Get active in your
community and state, and let your representatives know what
Read this book and hear its message. Both children and adults
will find valuable information about cigarettes and tobacco
addiction. And it would be especially beneficial if children
and adults can read it together and discuss the story and the
If you haven’t started smoking, don’t start. You’re doing the
smart thing. And if you do smoke, get help and stop. It
doesn’t get any easier. Believe me, I know.
For A Tobaccofree World
Los Angeles, California
Typography by Susan Ryan