Tobacco heir is outspoken against habit

Patrick Reynolds calls himself the "white sheep" of the famed tobacco family.

The grandson of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds is now a well-known anti-smoking crusader who works on smoke-free ordinances and cigarette tax increases across the country as a way of helping to undo some of the damage the family has done. He will be in Augusta on Thursday -- Great American Smokeout Day -- to help University Hospital kick off its tobacco-free campus.

Mr. Reynolds, 53, sold his company stock in 1979 and first came to prominence in 1986 when he testified in Congress for a total ban on tobacco advertising.

"That pretty well catapulted me into the headlines," he said. "I didn't realize it would be quite that strong a reaction around the nation. I was besieged with requests for news interviews and to speak. And I began to answer the call."

What followed was years of work, first on partial bans in bars and restaurants and airplanes, and now smoke-free states.

During the 2006 election, Mr. Reynolds found himself squaring off against the company in Ohio over a pair of ballot measures. One, backed by the American Lung Association and for which Mr. Reynolds did a statewide tour, would have banned smoking in most public places, such as bars and restaurants. The other, backed by R.J. Reynolds, would have trumped it with a number of exemptions. The latter measure ultimately failed.

Of the more than 24 states and territories that have banned smoking in public places, all but two of them have done so in the past six years, Mr. Reynolds said.

"It really is an idea whose time has come," he said. "We're seeing a real tidal wave of states passing laws."

More opportunities await in helping to curb smoking by raising cigarette taxes, an option Mr. Reynolds calls a "win-win-win."

"They're politically very popular," he said. "They bring in revenue. And they are a win because they give smokers a very strong financial incentive to quit."

Higher taxesalso discourage kids from starting, he said.

Mr. Reynolds' status as a member of a famous tobacco family gives his anti-smoking message some resonance, said Cheryl Wheeler, who conducts the smoking cessation classes at University and is coordinator for the cancer registry.

"He can speak to it on a personal basis," she said.

Mr. Reynolds was inspired to speak out against smoking after watching it claim his father, R.J. Reynolds Jr.

"They say you find your calling sometimes in your deepest wound," Mr. Reynolds said.

But before he went public, he talked to his brothers.

"We had some pretty heated arguments about it," Mr. Reynolds said. "They were concerned that I would be an embarrassment to the family, and that the price of the stock that they held in R.J. Reynolds would go down. They were wrong on both counts."

If anything, he said, "I think I helped to bring honor to the Reynolds family. Someone in our family is on the right side, for a change."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

GREAT AMERICAN SMOKEOUT

Thursday is the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, when smokers are asked to quit for at least the day in hopes they will work toward quitting for good. University Hospital is also launching its tobacco-free campus initiative Thursday, banning all smoking and tobacco products from the hospital and its grounds. Patrick Reynolds of the R.J.

Reynolds tobacco family, now a prominent anti-smoking crusader, will help kick off the initiative.

The public can hear Mr. Reynolds speak at a dinner event at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Belair Conference Center, 4081 Jimmie Dyess Parkway. The event is free, but reservations are required. Call (706) 828-2502 or (866) 591-2502.