COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Watching his father die spun Patrick Reynolds into a crusade to save America — one cigarette at a time.
It is an unlikely story considering his father was tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds, the son of a tobacco farmer whose name is on hundreds of thousands of cartons of cigarettes and who developed the prepackaged cigarette.
"My only memories of my father are of a man lying down, dying from smoking," he told students at Butler Middle School Monday.
As the school celebrates its Red Ribbon Week, Reynolds hoped that by sharing his inner-most feelings, he'd inspire the beginnings of a "tobacco-free society."
"One of these days we will have a smoke-free society and it starts with you. You are the future," he said.
Two weeks is all it takes for an 11- to 13-year-old, who smokes two cigarettes a day, to get hooked, Reynolds said, quoting a study compiled in the year 2000. The same study revealed that the average tobacco addict uses for 17 years without being able to quit.
"Drugs will destroy your life, drugs will destroy your future. … Welcome to minimum wage. Welcome to poverty. Welcome to a nightmare of a life," he said. "We're all models of ethical leadership for each other. People who succeed turn to other people for help. People who succeed get help."
When eighth-grader Laura Thackeray heard that smoking kills 1,200 Americans and more than 5 million around the world every year, she said she was shocked.
"I don't think they realize that they're killing millions of people a year," she said. "It would cause you to think twice about smoking to know that."
Reynolds, executive director for the Foundation for a Smokefree America
, said the country has made some progress by imposing higher cigarette taxes and making smoking prevention and cessation programs available to everyone.
However, he said, Utah could use some help — as the state recently earned an F grade for spending on such programs and a D for local cigarette tax rates. The national average for cigarette tax, Reynolds said, is around $1.30 per pack, while Utah's hovers around 69 cents per pack.
"Some taxes are good," he said. The state's smoking ban earned an A, as Reynolds said strong laws help keep people from picking up the habit.
Reynolds has stood up against his family business by presenting assemblies at schools across the country and testifying before Congress.
"I've brought honor to the Reynolds name and showed that someone in the family is on the right side. I think that even though they might not agree with me publicly, secretly they probably feel good about it inside," said Reynolds.
Seventh-grade vice president Bryce Bollinger said buying into the tricks used by the tobacco industry, such as fancy flavoring and countless images of famous people smoking, is "an easy way to get hooked."
"But you should see the surgeon general's warning and know that it is going to kill you. No matter what," he said.
The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reynolds says the country can't afford to lose any more, as the future is likely to need help from everyone, including today's teens.
Contributing: Mary Richards