R.J. Reynolds gave up cigarettes and wants all smokers to quit, too.
The surprising message will be splashed on a billboard this week along with Reynolds’ smiling face.
And while motorists do double-takes at the apparent turnabout, Reynolds will be puttering around his Loon Lake summer house, patiently piecing together birdhouses.
This R.J. Reynolds hasn’t even met the tobacco magnate who shares his initials.
His claim to fame? Just his name. Tobacco opponents made him the backbone of their latest counter advertising project, which features people who share names - but not philosophies - with tobacco marketers.
They plan billboards featuring Phillip Morris, an Arizona retiree; and possibly a Marlboro man from Marlboro, Vt.
“We looked for a Joe Camel. We did find one in Texas, but he wouldn’t return our calls,” says Kirstin Tutt, who’s organizing the campaign for Tobacco Free Washington Spokane County.
Tutt, who is already pitching the ad to health officials throughout the country, predicts Reynolds’ face will grace billboards nationwide.
She expects to get the Spokane billboard up Friday, in plenty of time for World No Tobacco Day on May 31.
“Smoking kills. Don’t buy cigarettes,” says the advertisement, featuring a large black-and-white photograph of the local R.J. Reynolds.
Drivers heading north on Monroe will see the billboard on a building south of College Avenue, says Mark Hughes, a Spokane County Health District employee handling the details.
Reynolds, 80, a Methodist lay minister, chuckles about the telephone call prodding him into billboard stardom.
“I’m a little bit embarrassed,” says Reynolds, a retired attorney who says he was a prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials. “But if it’ll stop one kid from smoking, I’m willing to do whatever is necessary.”
He’s happy, believing his name at last will do some good. So far, it’s meant a lifetime of teasing.
“They want to know if I have any samples and stuff like that,” Reynolds says, who lives in Spokane and summers on Loon Lake. “I just roll with it.”
The project coordinators first had to clear their clever idea with the attorney general’s office. For approval, Reynolds’ full name - Ralph J. Reynolds - and occupation had to be made clear on the billboard.
Reynolds, a former two-packs-a-day smoker, is a natural for the position. He started his own antismoking campaign within his family after giving up cigarettes in the 1950s.
He promised his two children, Jack and Edith, $100 each if they stayed away from cigarettes until they turned 20. Neither became a smoker.
“Jack said, ‘Every time I was tempted to, I could see that $100 bill you were going to give me,”’ says Reynolds.
“It was the best $200 I ever spent.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo