By Eric Swanson
ADA — Patrick Reynolds’ family owed its fame and fortune to tobacco.
But the grandson of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds changed his mind about the tobacco industry when he saw his father, R.J. Reynolds Jr., dying of cigarette-induced emphysema.
Patrick shared his family’s story, including his relatives’ deaths from smoking-related illnesses, with the audience Thursday night at East Central University. The Stomp Tobacco Outta Pontotoc County (STOP) Coalition hosted the event in conjunction with the Brandon Whitten Institute for Addiction and Recovery at ECU.
Patrick said his parents divorced when he was 3 years old, so he never really knew his father. But when Patrick was 9, he wrote R.J. Jr. a letter and asked to see him. Even though R.J. Jr. was sick, he agreed to a meeting.
When Patrick saw his father again, R.J. Jr. was lying on his back, gasping for breath and using an oxygen bottle. He was suffering from emphysema, but he told Patrick that he had asthma.
“Of course, he was smoking even then,” Patrick said. “And I said, ‘Got anything to do with your smoking?’ And he said, ‘I don’t think so.’
“There’s R.J. Jr., denying that he’s dying from the products which made our family rich and powerful.”
The memories of R.J. Jr.’s death prompted Patrick to join the anti-smoking movement. Then in 1986, he met U.S. Sen. Robert Packwood of Oregon during a tour of Washington, D.C.
Patrick said he asked Packwood why tobacco taxes were so low, and Packwood invited him to testify in front of a Senate subcommittee. Patrick did not want to testify at first, but he began studying the tobacco industry after returning to his home in Los Angeles.
“The more I learned, the more disturbed and angry I became,” he said.
The next step in Patrick’s transformation into an anti-smoking activist came when the American Lung Association told him that U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman was conducting hearings on the tobacco industry.
Patrick testified during the hearings, saying he supported a total ban on tobacco advertising. News organizations covered the hearings and turned Patrick into a celebrity.
Suddenly, Patrick was a leading advocate for the anti-smoking movement.
By Eric Swanson
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