Insider takes on tobacco

Patrick Reynolds targets his message to middle schools. Patrick Reynolds targets his message to middle schools. (Patrick Reynolds)
By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / November 25, 2010

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Jordan Hospital is bringing an unlikely guest to Plymouth to educate people about the dangers of smoking and tobacco use.

Patrick Reynolds, grandson of tobacco mogul R.J. Reynolds, is scheduled to speak to students at two Plymouth schools next week as well as give a free public lecture at Plimoth Plantation.

Jordan Hospital is hosting Reynolds as part of its community outreach and education efforts, lung cancer related to smoking and tobacco use being the leading cause of cancer deaths in this region.

November is also National Lung Cancer Awareness Month; earlier this month, the US government proposed making warnings against smoking larger and more graphic by including images on cigarette packaging labels. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health also just launched a new media campaign specifically targeting smokers in Southeastern Massachusetts, where the smoking rate is higher than the state average.

Reynolds, who lives in Los Angeles, has made a name for himself as an outspoken opponent of tobacco. He’s the executive director of the Foundation for a Smokefree America, an organization he founded in 1989.

After witnessing his relatives suffer from the effects of smoking, Reynolds kicked his pack-a-day habit and began a passionate crusade against tobacco. He divested his stock in the company founded by his grandfather, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the second-largest tobacco company in the United States, producing popular brands of cigarettes, including Camel, Kool, and Winston.

Plymouth Superintendent Gary E. Maestas said he is looking forward to having Reynolds speak to 2,400 students next Tuesday and Wednesday, when he’ll address assemblies at Plymouth South Middle School and the Plymouth Community Intermediate School.

“We’re very fortunate to be working with Jordan Hospital to get him to speak to our middle school students. He really enjoys the opportunity to share his story,’’ said Maestas. “It’s really a remarkable message that he has. It’s a message that kids need to hear.’’

Reynolds will tell the story of his father’s death from emphysema caused by smoking; he was 15 when his father died. He will also talk about the addictiveness of tobacco, and show images that illustrate how the cigarette industry has targeted youth through advertising.

Reynolds presents some sobering statistics: 60 percent of smokers start by the age of 14; 90 percent of smokers are firmly addicted before reaching age 19; only one in 10 smokers starts smoking after age 19.

“At the middle school level they haven’t made the choice yet of whether they’ll smoke or not smoke,’’ said Reynolds, in a telephone interview. “If we can get them, if I can inform them, before their high school years, then they are more empowered to resist the onslaught of peer pressure and tobacco advertising.’’

At Plimoth Plantation on Tuesday, he will present a lecture, “The Truth about Tobacco — Its Impact on Society and Children.’’ Francis J. Podbielski, medical director of Jordan Hospital’s lung cancer program, will provide an overview about the program and introduce Reynolds.

Lung cancer “is the number one cancer killer,’’ said Podbielski. “Lung cancer by far and away kills more people than breast or prostate cancer does. . . . I think the talk will be quite timely to what’s going on.’’

The lecture is free and open to the public, and Reynolds encourages anyone who’s trying to quit smoking to attend.

The American Cancer Society estimates there were 219,440 new cases of bronchus and lung cancer in the United States in 2009, 5,120 of them in Massachusetts.

The Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program recently announced a campaign that specifically aimed at the South Coast region of Massachusetts, where the smoking rate is more than 80 percent higher than the statewide average of 15 percent.

During his talk at the plantation, Reynolds will discuss the latest grades Massachusetts received from the American Lung Association. Every year, the organization issues Tobacco Control Report Cards for each state. In 2009, Massachusetts got an A for its smoke-free air, an F for spending on tobacco prevention programs, a B for its tobacco tax ($2.51 per pack, vs. the national average of $1.41), and a C for health insurance coverage of tobacco cessation programs. Reynolds will also discuss the new FDA law requiring graphic warnings on cigarette packages.

The lecture on Tuesday is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Plimoth Plantation, 137 Warren Ave. Registration is required by calling 800-256-7326. Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.