Patrick Reynolds’ Keynote Address on

World No Tobacco Day

before the United Nations’ Child Health 2000 Congress

May 31, 1995
Vancouver, Canada

Note to journalists

The below transcript of Mr. Reynolds’ speech tells the story in detail of how Mr. Reynolds made the transition to becoming a comitted tobaccofree advocate, how his family feels, anecdotes about the RJ Reynolds family, and current tobacco issues which Mr. Reynolds is most concerned with (for the latter, also see

My father died from smoking

I’d like to begin today with a little story. When I was a little boy of three, my parents were divorced, and I didn’t see my Dad again until I was nine. For six long years, I was wondering where his Dad was. I didn’t have him to hold me in his arms, and I really needed him and I really missed him. I didn’t have him to come to the football game and say, “You played well — you’re my boy!” He wasn’t there at swim meets to say, “I’m proud of you, son.”

So when I was nine, being an enterprising lad, I wrote him a letter. It said, “Dear Dad, I’m your son, Patrick. Where are you? I want to meet you.” And he was traveling, and my letter was always arriving the day after he left, but he also would leave a forwarding address. So the letter was forwarded from place to place, and by some miracle, it eventually reached him. He opened it, was touched, and he sent for me.

You can imagine how I felt when we finally met. All those years of longing, and now I was going to meet him! My Mom had brought me up to believe that he was wonderful, and he was. When the big moment finally came, and I was shown into the room where he was, I was stunned and saddened to find my father lying down, with sandbags on his chest. In those days sandbags were put on the chest to exercise the lungs.

My only memories of my father, R.J. Reynolds, Jr., are of a man always short of breath, increasingly sick and frail, and counting the time that he had left to live. My Dad died from emphysema, the result of his lifelong cigarette addiction, in 1964, when I was still a boy.

I started smoking myself, as a teen

For many years I didn’t consciously make the connection between that sick, frail man and smoking. When I was in high school, I wanted what every high school boy wants. I wanted to look older. I wanted to be hip, to be cool. To hang out with the older kids. So that’s why I started smoking that same year, at 15. My father and mother both smoked, all of my older brothers smoked — and, after all, it was the family business — so it must be okay, I thought. Also my mother didn’t want me to smoke, and that made it very attractive indeed.

And I was trying to discover my own identity. Like a lot of teenagers, I was rebelling against authority. It was time for the usual developmental task of separating from my parents. I was at the age when normal teenagers begin making more and more of their own decisions. I wanted to express who I was and find out who I was. So I began smoking.

Tobacco issues most important to me

Cigarettes killed my father, but still I started smoking. That really impresses on me how strong the lure of cigarettes is to teenagers. The fact is that a majority of smokers — sixty percent — begin smoking by the age of 14. And ninety percent of all those who smoke become addicted before reaching their 19th birthday. That means that only one smoker in ten takes up the habit after age 19.

So almost no one starts smoking after age 19! The sad truth is that 90 percent of those who become addicted to cigarettes are children and teenagers.

I’m going to quote some figures from an article which appeared in the May, ’95 issue of Scientific American magazine, because this will shed light on this area.

In 1992, the tobacco industry spent $5 billion on marketing in the US alone. This expenditure translates to about $75 for every adult US smoker, or to $4,500 for every US adolescent who became a smoker that year. This apparently high cost to attract a new smoker is very likely recouped over the average 15 to 20 years that this teen will smoke.

Tobacco executives have maintained that their advertising is only for getting established smokers to switch brands. But most public health advocates agree that cigarette advertising generates new demand, with adolescents being the primary target.

In 1988, R.J. Reynolds introduced the cartoon “Joe Camel” ads. One study indicates that the market share of Camel among adolescent males jumped from 1% prior to the that campaign, to over 13% of adolescent males just two years after the campaign began. [Update as of May, 2000: Smoking among teens surged by 73% from 1988 — the year Joe Camel was introduced — through 1998. Since 1998 it has declined slightly. For the causes of this, please see Mr. Reynolds’ Message to Youth page, and scroll down to the section titled On the Recent Increase in Teen Smoking.]

Around the world, smoking has been dramatically increasing. According to the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, smoking around the world increased 73% between 1988 and 1998. [updated in 2007]

Over the three decades starting in 1965, there was a 73% increase in worldwide smoking. The largest increase was in the Third World and Asia. In China, during the 1990’s, cigarette consumption grew at a rate of about 9% per year. In the US, cigarettes presently account for about one of every five deaths.

Worldwide smoking now causes two to three million deaths each year. Around the globe today, one out of three people smoke. Because of skyrocketing world smoking rates in recent years, the smoking death rate will soon escalate sharply.

According to the World Health Organization, of the world’s 1.2 billion smokers, before the year 2030 smoking will kill half a billion people who are now alive — about 9% of the world’s population! And the study limits deaths counted to those who were already born at the time of the study.

The Mandate for Regulation and Oversight

Who is to blame? First, we can point to the tobacco companies, especially for their predatory marketing campaigns in underdeveloped countries, where people often know little of the dangers of smoking. In some of these nations, cigarette warning labels are often weak or nonexistent. And the strong desire of many Third World peoples for Western cigarettes makes them vulnerable targets indeed.

Second, even more than the tobacco industry, we should blame the governments of the world for their poor regulation of cigarettes. If it’s legal, for example, for R.J. Reynolds to use cartoon characters to attract adolescents, then it’s legal for Philip Morris to do the same. The buck stops with government — it’s up to them to regulate, and not to stand passively by as a new generation of our youth becomes hooked on cigarettes.

Now the tobacco industry spin doctors say, “We don’t need more government in our lives!” They have attempted to portray tobacco regulations as an intrusion on our personal freedoms. But let us remember that there is no freedom in the slavery to nicotine addiction, and tobacco is a health issue, not a freedoms issue.

Even children wonder why cigarette ads are permitted if smoking is so bad for health.

Three Important Actions Governments Should Take

Therefore, today, on World No Tobacco Day, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly deliver to the leaders of the world a special three point message. When you return to your many homelands, please ask your governments to do the following:

Ban Tobacco Advertising

First, I urge those nations who have not done so already to ban cigarette advertising altogether. There is a clear moral, ethical and legal mandate for all nations to stop the tobacco companies from continuing to associate smoking with positive images of health, sports, success, and romance. The tobacco industry can no longer use the old freedom of speech defense, if we separate private and political speech from commercial speech. Private and political speech is — and should be — protected by the First Amendment right of Freedom of Speech. But commercial speech, or advertising, must tell the public the truth. Tobacco ads are outrageous lies, and therein lies one new legal basis for banning tobacco advertising in nations all around the world.

Also, as the US Supreme Court ruled briefly before reversing itself, tobacco is an exceptionally hazardous product, and only children and adolescents become addicted to it. So we need exceptional guidelines to regulate this product — the only product in the world which when used as intended by the manufacturer causes death, disease and intense addiction. [Update: in 1996, the Supreme Court upheld the City of Baltimore’s right to drastically curtail tobacco advertising, on the grounds that tobacco is an unusual hazard to the health of out children. Freedom of Speech defenses were overruled. However, the Court reversed itself shortly thereafter, with Conservative Justices upholding the tobacco industry’s right to advertise.]

The attractive models up on cigarette billboards are role models which the world’s children see daily and look up to. Our children see them everywhere, and grow up believing that smoking is cool, socially acceptable and much more prevalent than it actually is. This sets the stage for them to take up the habit later, before they find out the truth. Sadly, by the time they do, it’s too late — they’re addicted, often for life. By their early 20’s, most come to realize that smoking is not very prevalent or socially acceptable — and it’s anything but cool. Tobacco advertising had misled them during their vulnerable teenage years. [Update as of March, 1999: the States’ settlement agreement provides for a complete ban of cigarette billboards. Tobacco may be advertised in magazines with less than 20% youth readership.]

Sadly, in recent years the tobacco industry has been on an unprecedented worldwide advertising binge. I congratulate the 40 nations who have had the moral courage to totally ban or strongly limit tobacco advertising. These include France and Canada, and more recently, Russia and China. I urge those nations who have banned advertising, but still permit ads for tobacco promotional products, to ban this form of cigarette advertising as well. It is a tremendous loophole which enables tobacco companies to continue advertising at nearly full throttle.

In short, tobacco advertising is the most enormous abuse of freedom of speech in history, and I urge the leaders of the world to ban it altogether.

Raise Tobacco Taxes

Second, I urge world governments to raise their cigarette taxes, particularly because studies indicate that higher cigarette taxes motivate people to quit, and will substantially reduce future addiction among our youth. I congratulate nations who have imposed the higher cigarette taxes, like Denmark at US $4 per pack, or England, at US $3.24 per pack. With a recent study informing us that the direct medical costs of smoking are over US $2 per pack, a $2 tax on cigarettes is the very minimum which should now be considered by the world’s governments.

As I said earlier, the nation with the very lowest cigarette tax in the entire the industrialized world is the US — proof that the tobacco companies and the millions they have given to US officials have far too much influence over government policy. In the US, the average tax on cigarettes is only 56 cents per pack! [UPDATE: This has changed considerably since this speech was given in 1995, as the States and Congress have since raised tobacco taxes.] This is [was] a national disgrace!

Limit Youth Access to Tobacco

Third, I urge world leaders to limit youth access to tobacco. It’s a sad reality that most of the world’s children today can easily purchase cigarettes. In fact, 60% of smokers actually start by age 14, and 90% of those who smoke are addicted before reaching age 19. This means that almost no one starts smoking after 19.

It is for this reason that I advocate licensing merchants who sell tobacco and also raising the age at which minors can purchase cigarettes to 21 — as was long ago done with alcohol. A portion of the licensing fees paid by merchants would go to pay for sting operations — sending minors of 16 and 17, under agent supervision, into convenience stores to try to purchase cigarettes. Merchants and clerks caught selling to minors would pay increasing fines with the first two offenses, and would lose their license to sell tobacco on the third offense for at least two years. Word would very quickly spread around the merchant community not to sell to minors, and to require a photo ID.

Cigarette vending machines should be banned, because that is how most children easily buy cigarettes. But in the US, only nine states have banned vending machines. And tobacco education should begin early in our schools.

To repeat, almost no one starts smoking after age 19. If we can keep our youth off cigarettes until age 21, it is very unlikely they will start after that age.

In summary, I am asking the governments of the world to ban cigarette advertising, raise cigarette taxes to at least US $2 per pack, and to take strong measures to limit youth access to cigarettes.

With false innocence, the tobacco companies ask, “Why single out tobacco for more regulations?” The answer is simple — as I said once already, cigarettes are the only products which, when used as intended, cause widespread addiction, disease and death. Other products, like alcohol, are not necessarily harmful, when used as intended. But cigarettes definitely are — and that’s why tobacco should be singled out and regulated much more tightly.

A Choice? Tobacco Industry Spin

The tobacco companies have said that, “Smoking is a matter of personal choice.” Let’s remember that cigarettes are as addicting as heroin or cocaine — and most smokers don’t have much choice in the matter. They’re addicted, and they must continue smoking, or face a painful and difficult withdrawal. Telling smokers that they have a choice keeps them in denial about this reality, and helps smokers to believe they are smoking because they choose to. This is another way the tobacco companies keep their customers buying their deadly products.

Some RJ Reynolds Family Memories

I have some memories about my family and cigarettes that I’d like to share with you. Everybody in my family that I remember is — or was — a smoker. My mother, who was a very beautiful woman, sauntered in one day holding a cigarette. She thought my father, being RJ Reynolds, Jr., would approve. But he looked at her — cigarette in his own hand — and said, “Marianne! How COULD you take up such a dirty, filthy, disgusting habit! I want you to put that cigarette out right this instant!”

Unfortunately, my mother didn’t heed his advice. She kept right on smoking and became an addicted smoker herself. Later, when I was 16 and walked into the living room holding a cigarette, my mother looked at me and — cigarette in her own hand — said, “Patrick, how COULD you take up such a dirty, filthy disgusting habit! Put that cigarette out right now!”

Well, I didn’t. I kept right on smoking and I became as addicted and dependent on them as anyone else. It took me the entire 15 years I was a smoker to stop. The last five years were spent battling, quitting, and starting again several times. Each time I started up again, I truly thought I could have just one, that I could get away with just one. And that’s how I’d get hooked again.


When I quit, I tried everything. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of quitting methods. I went through an aversion therapy program 5 times. I tried acupuncture. I tried gradual withdrawal. I tried hypnosis. I finally quit for good in 1985, and it was one of the hardest things I ever did.

My message for smokers who want to quit is — get into a program, get help — and keep trying if you fail. Try again – you can do it! Take comfort in the knowledge that most smokers have to quit several times before they stop successfully. And get into a program — people who win in life ask for help.

Also see Mr. Reynolds’ Quitting Tips.

How My Family Feels – Then and Now

Now I need to tell you that some of my family are not very happy with my role as a smokefree advocate — particularly my tobacco cousins. Sadly, my parents are both gone. My mother died in 1985, and smoking definitely hastened her death. In June of last year, I lost my oldest brother, R. J. Reynolds III, to emphysema caused by his lifelong smoking addiction.

The family I’m closest to are my brothers, so before speaking out publicly, I went to see each of them. I remember the look of shock on my half-brother Will’s face when he said, “You’re gonna do WHAT?” They were all concerned that I might be an embarrassment to the family, or whether the price of the stock they held in R.J. Reynolds would go down. By the way, I divested all my stock in 1979, because I was uncomfortable making money from something I knew caused addiction and death on a mass scale, and decimated families in the process.

In the years since then, my brothers have seen that I’ve received a number of awards and honors. As to the price of their stock, it went up. They got peak prices for it with the leveraged buyout in 1989. In short, we get along just fine. They admit to being a little miffed and nervous when I first started my campaign. But I think they now see that I’m a credit to the family name by my activities. They see that I’m positively regarded, and that pleases them.

My Story: How I Became an
Advocate Against Tobacco

Now, like my family did at first, you are probably wondering how it is that a grandson of R.J. Reynolds became a smokefree advocate. That’s a good question. As I said, my father’s death made a deep impression on me, as did the mounting medical evidence.

Then in 1986 I found myself in Washington DC, in a chance meeting with Senator Robert Packwood. Hearing that I believed cigarette taxes should be higher, he immediately invited me to testify before a Senate subcommittee that same day. I said no, but I realized for the first time that maybe I could be a voice — a voice to wake people up to the dangers of smoking.

So, back home in Los Angeles, I began to look into the tobacco industry. I didn’t know much about it, because no family member had worked in a position of importance there in decades. The more I learned about the tobacco companies, the more disturbed I became. I agreed to testify before a Congressional hearing a few months later on whether to ban tobacco advertising.

When I did, on July 18, 1986, my testimony was widely reported in the media, and I was besieged with requests for speaking engagements and news interviews. I was catapulted overnight into a position of leadership. I began to answer the call, campaigning for cigarette tax increases in Florida, California, Colorado, Arizona and other States. I spoke two additional times before Congress (once to help bring about the initial airline smoking ban). And I spoke before dozens of State legislatures in favor of laws limiting secondhand smoke, which were then sweeping the nation [in the late 80’s].

As I worked on various political campaigns, I became increasingly knowledgeable about — and devoted to — the fight against tobacco. And in Los Angeles in 1989, I founded Tobaccofree Earth. I’m committed to this work, and will answer the call for the rest of my life.

All of this is not to say that I am a major figure in this fight — in fact, that is simply not the case. There are numerous persons whose efforts have exceeded my own many times over, many whose influence is greater than mine, and many who have been far more selfless than I have been. Thousands of people have worked tirelessly to bring about the changes in recent years. I am glad to be counted among them. It’s all of us working together that has made such a difference. I’ll come back to this shortly, at the end of my talk.

My Foundation is now seeking funding to send me on a goodwill world speaking tour, warning children of the dangers of cigarettes, and at the same time urging the world’s leaders to enact the three point plan I have outlined. I believe I will be able to bring a vitally important message to millions of children around the world, and with luck influence world leaders as well. [Update as of March 1999: Tobaccofree Earth has instead decided to seek grants for a much needed Tobaccofree Speakers Bureau, and a new study to determine whether the current pessimism documented among today’s teens has played a role in the tremendous 73% increase in the teen smoking rate since 1988. Other grant proposals are also now being prepared.]

A Vision and a Promise:
The Coming Smokefree Society

When my grandfather, R.J. Reynolds, began manufacturing cigarettes at the turn of the century, he didn’t know that smoking causes lung disease, heart disease and cancer. Now that we know this, I’ve chosen to fight for a smokefree world. And I invite you to join me as fellow crusaders.

I’m going to make you a promise, because I have a strong and clear vision, which I will now share with you. One day there will come a time when the very few people left smoking in the world will each put out their last cigarettes and finally, smoking will be no more. We will have a world free of smoking. One day millions of little boys won’t be grieving for years over their fathers because of their premature death caused by smoking. No more cancer, no more heart disease, no more lung disease caused by smoking. The day of a smokefree world is coming, and that’s a promise. It’s coming one day!

I see some children in the audience. I believe you will see the coming smokefree world in your lifetime. This is our legacy to you. It’s a precious gift that everyone in this room is working to give to you — so you better stay smokefree! I’d like to invite all of you to come to my talk for youth later today. I have a very special message to share with you.

And I also see all of you gathered here today. You are the men and women who are fighting to make this world a better place for our children, and fighting for our children’s health. You are battling to make the vision of a smokefree world come true.

The work you are doing is vitally important. For your courageous efforts, I acknowledge you, I honor you, and I humbly express my gratitude.

The tobacco industry has near unlimited funding — while our own funding is often all too minimal. Many of us sometimes wonder how we get the job done with so little funds. There are few enough of us — which is why every person in this room is so vitally important.

You are the men and women who are now helping to make our world a better place for our children.

It is you who are helping to make the promise of the coming smokefree world a reality.

Yours is a noble mission indeed. We will win in the end. In the meantime — Godspeed on your journey!


For more information on Mr. Reynolds stand on current tobacco issues,
please visit

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