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Memories impel two opponents of smoking

A motel operator and a tobacco scion, advocating passage of Amendment 6, describe how cigarettes destroyed their fathers.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 2002


A motel operator and a tobacco scion, advocating passage of Amendment 6, describe how cigarettes destroyed their fathers.

TAMPA -- Behind the counter at the Tahitian Inn, a black and white framed photograph of the late Joe Pupello hangs on the wall.

Pupello used to sit every morning with friends in the motel diner, filling the room with smoke. Puffing two packs of Lucky Strikes daily was part of the rhythm of his life.

The man who founded the family-owned inn on S Dale Mabry Highway in 1953 was not there Friday to see his son's latest cause.

There in the Tahitian Inn, Joe C. Pupello hosted a news conference for Patrick Reynolds, an antismoking advocate who wants Floridians to ban smoking from restaurants and other establishments.

"You have a right to smoke," Reynolds said before a bank of television cameras, "but not if I am in the room."

Floridians will vote Tuesday on Amendment 6, which would change the state Constitution to prohibit smoking at indoor workplaces, except for stand-alone bars, smoking hotel rooms and private homes.

Reporters came to hear Reynolds, grandson of tobacco king R.J. Reynolds, urge voters to pass the amendment.

In a blue suit, red tie and black wingtip shoes, Reynolds offered public health reasons to pass the measure. He talked about the effects of secondhand smoke. He attacked Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican Party for accepting millions from tobacco companies.

But the reasons for passing the antismoking measure were more personal for Reynolds and Pupello, two sons who both lost their fathers.

* * *

Reynolds was born into a family whose name is synonymous with cigarettes. His great grandfather, R.J. Reynolds, started his company in Winston, N.C., in 1875. Today it's the second-largest tobacco company in the United States.

Reynolds had four children, including his oldest son R.J. Reynolds Jr., who smoked regularly, something considered fashionable at the time.

Reynolds Jr. was a playboy, according to his son Patrick. He married four times, flew airplanes and dabbled in politics. He was also fabulously wealthy, inheriting millions after his father's death.

But Patrick Reynolds hardly knew his father, who seemed larger than life. His father and mother divorced when he was a child. When he was 9, he wrote his father, "Dear Dad, I want to meet you," he said.

He later met with his father at a mountain retreat in North Carolina. His father, who had smoked all his life, was seriously ill. He lay in bed with sandbags on his chest, a common treatment for asthma. He actually had emphysema, Patrick Reynolds said.

He would see his father a few times after that, usually around holidays. His father died a few years later. But he largely cut his children out of the inheritance, said Patrick Reynolds. He got $2.5-million, a small portion of his father's massive fortune.

The money allowed Patrick Reynolds, then just 21, to lead a glamorous life. He went to Berkeley, Calif., smoked pot and studied filmmaking, he said. He bought a mansion in the Hollywood hills. He dated Shelley Duvall, who starred in The Shining.

In 1985, he was still drifting, going through a divorce, filming a movie that would tank and grieving about the death of his mother. He was also seeing a therapist to help with his anger toward his absentee father.

In the middle of all of this, a wealthy Republican invited him to Washington to meet some senators. One asked him about his position on federal taxes on tobacco.

Reynolds, who hadn't thought much about the tobacco debate, said the cigarette tax should be raised. The senator, who recognized the publicity of having a Reynolds testify against tobacco, asked him to speak out.

Reynolds soon dedicated his life to the cause. He knew that his name gave him instant media attention. He founded the Foundation for a Smoke-Free America. He traveled across the country speaking to schools and at press conferences.

For his latest trip Friday, he asked the Chamber of Commerce if any hotels in Tampa forbade smoking. That's how he met Pupello, proprietor of the Tahitian Inn.

Like Reynolds, Pupello had watched as his father died at age 62. Others in the family -- who didn't smoke -- lived as old as 89.

Pupello's father started smoking at 18 in the Army. Back then, no one really knew smoking could kill you, Pupello said.

Sucking a cigarette was so accepted that Jesuit High School had a smoking lounge for seniors, he said.

Pupello, a football player at the University of Florida, quit smoking because it hurt his performance on the field. But he could never get his father to stop.

Now, his dad's hotel does not allow smoking in the diner, which is being renovated. Soon, there will be no rooms at the inn that allow smoking. The marquee facing Dale Mabry Highway urges voters to approve Amendment 6.

As the news conference unfolded Friday with Reynolds talking to reporters, Pupello watched from the sidelines and held his 9-year-old daughter's hand.

"I don't want my daughter or my son to sit in a place and have (smoking) going on," Pupello said.

From a distance, his father gazed out from the photograph on the wall.

-- David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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