More Than Money
Issue #12

Creative Giving

Table of Contents

“Tobacco Heir Turns Over a New Leaf”

I was three when my parents divorced, and for years I didn't see my Dad. When I was nine I wrote him a letter. He was traveling, but my little letter was forwarded from place to place and by some miracle eventually reached him. Touched, he sent for me. When the big moment finally came and I was shown into his room, I was stunned to find him lying down, sandbags on his chest to help strengthen his breathing.

My only memories of my father, R.J. Reynolds, Jr., are of a man short of breath, increasingly sick and frail, and counting the time he had left to live. When I was 15 he died of emphysema brought on by a lifetime addiction to 'the family brands,' cigarettes made by the second largest producer of tobacco products, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. My eldest brother, R.J. Reynolds, III died prematurely of tobacco-related illness and I have since lost an uncle and aunt to smoking.

In 1979, I began to take action and to research the broader issues involved in tobacco use. I sold all my tobacco stock, realizing I could no longer benefit from a product responsible for hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths every year. More difficult than divestment was the struggle to break my own pack-a-day addiction. It took me until 1985, after a dozen attempts in as many years.

In 1986, I began to speak out publicly on the evils of tobacco use. As a grandson of R.J. Reynolds, I was given the opportunity to present testimony before a U.S. Congressional hearing on cigarette advertising. I was overwhelmed by the response. Requests for interviews and speeches poured in from around the country and abroad.

In 1989 I chartered The Foundation for a Smokefree America, in which I eventually invested nearly half my inheritance. The Foundation stresses the complicity of government in allowing the tobacco industry to influence tax and advertising policy via extensive campaign contributions. More concretely, it advocates four immediate measures: 1) An outright ban on cigarette advertising, 2) More explicit warning labels on tobacco products, 3) Increased taxes--the U.S. has the lowest cigarette tax in the industrialized world, and 4) Raising the legal smoking age. I am seeking funding to establish the Foundation with paid staff and to finance speaking tours.

Often people ask me about the irony of biting the hand that fed me, to which I reply: if the hand that fed me is the tobacco industry, that same hand has killed millions of people. And the industry is showing no signs of stopping on its own. For a brief period in my early 20's I changed my name from Reynolds. I've come to realize that my name is a very great asset, and I am proud to use its power to help bring about a smokefree society.

- Patrick Reynolds

c/o Foundation for a Smokefree America
505 S. Beverly Dr., Suite 1000
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
310/277-1111


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