Big tobacco heir talks to Utah students about smoking dangers

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COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS -- The grandson of a major tobacco producer had a powerful message to share with Utah students Monday about the industry he has turned his back on.

The crowd, particularly the girls, let out a sigh when they saw a picture of "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson lounging back in a muscle shirt holding a cigarette.

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. -Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

"Bad vampire!" said presenter Patrick Reynolds.

The Butler Middle School students then recoiled when Reynolds showed them pictures of people with mouth cancer, throat cancer and a 17-year-old track star with tongue cancer who died at 19 years old from chewing tobacco.

Reynolds was trying to show the students the truth about tobacco. He should know -- he's the grandson of RJ Reynolds, a tobacco magnate.

"I wanted to connect with the audience from talking from my heart. What's in my heart? My father dying from smoking," he said.

Smoking causes 90% of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80% of all lung cancer deaths in women. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

The assembly included statistics about big tobacco targeting teens. Students got the message.

"I learned that 1,200 Americans are dying a day. I didn't realize it was that much," said 8th grader Laura Thackeray.

"I thought it was very good of him to stand up and say this is wrong," said 7th grader Bryce Bollinger.

Reynolds has stood up against his family business by testifying in front of Congress and by giving assemblies like this one across the country.

"I've brought honor to the Reynolds family 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.

He ended the assembly with a message of hope for the students, telling them never to start smoking or using tobacco because they need their health for the wonderful things that lie ahead of them.

"One of these days we will have a smoke-free society and it starts with you. You are the future," he said.



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Mary Richards


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