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Patrick Reynolds
Patrick Reynolds, grandson of cigarette company founder R.J. Reynolds, speaks to Calistoga Middle School students on Wednesday morning. His talk, "The Truth About Tobacco" warned students about the dangers of smoking and addiction. J.L. Sousa/Register

Patrick Reynolds, grandson of tobacco mogul R.J. Reynolds, watched as his father was “dying from the thing that made our family wealthy,” Reynolds told 230 students at Calistoga Junior-Senior High School Wednesday morning.

His father, R. J. Reynolds II, died of emphysema at the age of 58. That’s why he turned his back on his family’s brands, such as Camel and Winston, Patrick Reynolds said.

With black-and-white slides of his parents, Reynolds shared his troubled past with students to grab their attention as part of a 45-minute lecture sponsored by Queen of the Valley Medical Center about the destructive effects of drugs and tobacco. His first takeaway message: Smoking is addictive.

“Nine out of ten smokers become addicted by age 19,” Reynolds said. “Once they get you hooked, you cannot stop.”

He used photos of actors such as Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis, stylishly puffing, before fast-forwarding to modern celebrities with cigarettes such as singer Katy Perry and “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson.

“Bad vampire,” Reynolds said, eliciting a hearty laugh from the teenage crowd.

“One way of expressing who you are is smoking or drugs,” Reynolds said. “Find more original ways of showing who you are.”

Then, Reynolds played anti-smoking commercials that illustrated city blocks full of empty shoes and body bags heaped in front of tobacco company offices, and  revealed a number: 1,200.

That’s the number of people who die in the U.S. every day from smoking-related illnesses.

Reynolds implored students to seek help if they’re feeling stressed or tempted by substance abuse, and to understand that “not everyone is on your side,” such as tobacco companies.

Some students said they were most shaken by the number of people who die every day of smoking-related diseases.

“There was a lot more people than I thought,” 9th grader Nayeli Maldonado, 15, said. “It can affect you in more ways than I thought...it can affect other people.”

Nicolas Ramirez, 12, in 7th grade, said he was touched by the body bag commercial.

“They were finally telling the company that what they’re doing kills lots of people,” Ramirez said.

The sponsors were pleased with students’ reactions. “He’s very passionate about making sure kids don’t start smoking,” said Leah Kuchta Waters, marketing coordinator for Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

Reynolds himself said the students seemed “captivated.”

“They were listening quietly, and that’s a sign there was some learning going on,” he said.

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