Reynolds heir blows smoke in tobacco industry's eyes

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

PATRICK REYNOLDS is the ultimate tobacco-industry diversification. This grandson of tobacco king R.J. Reynolds has beaten his cigarettes into audiocassettes so people will learn smoking no more.

Mr. Reynolds sold his tobacco stock several years ago and now promotes tapes that aim to help people stop smoking.

That's a little like the scion of a New England slave-trading family taking up abolitionism, or a bootlegger's boy taking the pledge.

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Reynolds likens American tobacco-company efforts to market cigarettes abroad, while smoking in the United States declines, to ``a new opium trade.''

``It's a product as addictive as heroin,'' he said, spearing some pasta for emphasis at lunch here. ``We have one set of standards for our own citizens, and another set of standards for foreign peoples.''

Such sharp comments, coupled with his family name and a photogenic presence honed by his acting career, give Reynolds unique stature as drum major for the anti-smoking movement.

And he's riding high in a year that has seen a report from Surgeon General C. Everett Koop that found cigarettes can be addictive and a historic jury decision in New Jersey that found a cigarette company partly responsible for a woman's death.

A wave of hundreds of local smoking ordinances continues to swell across the US, including a recent one in Chicago where typically combative aldermen were photographed defiantly lighting up in the City Council chamber.

Oregon voters will rule on a strengthened indoor pollution measure in November, while a California referendum will seek to raise cigarette taxes, with some of the proceeds going to medical research.

Meanwhile, antismoking advocates hope that they will have the votes in Congress next year to pass the Luken bill and follow Canada's lead by banning the promotion and advertising of cigarettes. The bill would also ban vending-machine cigarette sales and includes other measures as well.

Now Reynolds can taste the ``ultimate'' goal that he says has kept him living in the present rather than feeling guilt for the damage wreaked by the cigarettes on which his fortune was built.

That goal is a ``smoke free'' society.

``It's getting closer,'' he says.

And it will be prohibition by the back door when it comes.

A ban on cigarette ads and restrictions on cigarette exports are just two of Reynolds's pet proposals for Congress as he buzzes around the US speaking on topics such as the ``smokeless cigarette,'' a new R.J. Reynolds tobacco company product that he says is as addictive as regular cigarettes. He also backs higher cigarette taxes and a ban with strict penalties for selling cigarettes to those under 21.

Reynolds also has a book coming out appropriately entitled ``The Gilded Leaf,'' which profiles his family, the founders of the R.J. Reynolds Company, which bought Nabisco and changed its name to RJR Nabisco Inc. in 1985.

The move illustrates to some industry analysts how profitable tobacco companies are trying to diversify in the face of negative attitudes toward their product in the US.

Reynolds, who reportedly inherited about $2.5 million before selling his stock and hitting the lecture circuit, says he is following an industry trend to an extreme. ``At this point, fully two-thirds of R.J. Reynolds's gross sales is coming from nontobacco related products,'' he says.

Unlike his own ventures, however, ``Fully half of the profits come from cigarettes - this gives you an idea of how profitable cigarettes are.''

A star of the little-remembered 1986 science-fiction flick ``Eliminators,'' Reynolds brings a laid-back, New Age moral tone to a debate that at the public policy level is often couched exclusively in health terms.

That approach is rooted in his own experience. He tells of an emotional reunion with his father, who was incapacitated by a smoking-related illness, and of his own struggle to stop smoking afterward.

``I, a young man who saw my father dying from cigarettes, nevertheless took up smoking at the age of 18. It really proves to me that the lure of cigarettes to teen-agers is very powerful indeed,'' he says. ``It took me 15 years then to successfully stop smoking.'' He feels smoking impinges on a person's sense of self-worth. An upcoming set of stop-smoking tapes that he is promoting, which includes a video appearance by him, stresses self-motivation, as did an earlier set of tapes that sold over 30,000 copies.

Gary Miller of the Tobacco Institute, like RJR Nabisco, won't comment on Reynolds's activities, but he disputes the idea that tobacco is addictive.

Reynolds disagrees. He says his own battle with cigarettes ended when he became alert to the moods that made him crave one. Two years later, in 1986, he testified in Congress on the need for a ban on cigarette advertising.

Since then, he has become either a media terror or an unscientific nuisance (depending on which side you're on) to tobacco companies, studying their advertising methods to use against them.

``They refuse to appear on talk shows with me,'' he says, recalling one exception on a television show where a tobacco spokesman said that countries that banned cigarette advertising showed no substantial decline in the rate of smoking.

``I replied that if there was really no substantial decline in the rate of smoking without advertising, why do the tobacco companies want to spend $2 [billion] to $3 billion a year in the US promoting a product that's killing people?'' Reynolds recalls with a grin.

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