"I can tell you one thing today cigarettes are addicting."
Patrick Reynolds, an anti-smoking activist whose grandfather started one of the world's largest tobacco companies, told that to about 500 area middle school students Monday.
He said doctors in the day of his grandfather, R.J. Reynolds, didn't understand the dangers of cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
"He helped popularize smoking in America. He didn't know how dangerous smoking was," Reynolds said. "That's why I will do this for the rest of my life."
He warned the young people it takes only two or three cigarettes a day for as little as two weeks to get them addicted, according to a study in 2000.
Once they are addicted, it takes an average of 17 years and many attempts to break that addiction, Reynolds said.
He also said most people find it almost impossible to stop smoking and dipping without help.
"People who succeed best in life get help," Reynolds said. Those who isolate themselves and try to make their way alone face a much harder battle, he warned.
Reynolds showed the students several examples of advertising campaigns geared just to get young people to pick up their first cigarette or dip. He said advertising featuring candy flavors and references to alcoholic flavors have been prohibited since 2006, but they were obvious attempts to develop a following among young people.
As smoking rates have declined in the United States, Reynolds said, tobacco companies have moved their focus and campaigns illegal here to third-world countries to try to enlarge their markets.
While one in five Americans now smoke, he said, about one-third of adults worldwide smoke.
Statistics show that 40 percent of smokers eventually die from cancer or other diseases related to their addiction. That means that at current rates about nine percent of the world's population will die because of tobacco, Reynolds said.
Reynolds also talked to the youngsters about the dangers of second-hand smoke. He helped a student role-play asking her mother at least smoke outside if she couldn't quit altogether.
But he warned students that nagging their parents daily about smoking would just lead to arguments. He suggested they limit their concerns about their parents' smoking to just three serious discussions a year, but encouraged them to speak up more about the danger of second-hand smoke because that directly affected the kids' own health.