Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 2 - September 2010
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Journey for a Tobacco-Free World hit a few potholes

But cross-country runner is back on track


A journey of any kind comes with bumps along the road, so it’s no surprise that Errol Povah, the 57-year-old BC anti-tobacco activist who is running across Canada in order to raise awareness, hit his first snag that actually landed him in hospital.


I was forced to take a break and went to Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff [on June 25],” said Povah. “The problem was an infection in my lower right leg. The doctor, who was quite aware of what I’m doing, advised me to take a few extra days off, but I was back on the road, getting back into it gently. On  July 1, I did 10km, July 2, 20km, July 3, 30km, and July 4, I did the full 42km, and have continued to do that ever since, with no problems whatsoever.


The Journey for a Tobacco-Free World, a ‘first of its kind’ 6,300km run, walk or crawl from Victoria to Montreal, began on May 31, 2010, as part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 23rd annual World No Tobacco Day festivities. At the estimated rate of 42km per day, six days a week, the cross country, shore-to-shore trek is expected to take about six months.


Time, energy and resources permitting, the Journey will then head south from Montreal to New York City. These two destination cities were chosen specifically because they are home to the head offices of Canadian and American tobacco companies, where large anti-tobacco protests will be held to coincide with the Journey for a Tobacco- Free World’s arrival.


Approximately 123 Canadians die prematurely, and by an average of 10–15 years, each and every day as a direct result of tobacco use. For the tobacco industry to stay in business, at least 123 Canadian kids have to start smoking, each and every day,” said the 30-year anti-tobacco activist.


Povah, the current president of Airspace Action on Smoking and Health (AASH), Canada’s all-volunteer anti-tobacco organization, has traveled all over the world at his own expense to attend international anti-tobacco conferences and to protest tobacco industry conventions.


He said that he hopes to raise awareness about tobacco, which is “largely forgotten, and replaced by other social concerns such as obesity,” the tobacco industry, the anti-tobacco movement, as well as help raise funds to “ramp up the war on tobacco.


Globally, society is losing the war on tobacco, big time. Forty-six years after the first US Surgeon-General’s Report on the hazards of smoking, one would expect the death toll to be dropping fast and nearing zero. But tobacco continues to be the leading and most easily and cheaply preventable cause of disease, disability and premature death in Western society,” Povah said.


Aside from opening eyes across Canada, Povah is hoping to raise $540,000 during his campaign. A total of 30% of the funds raised will be divided equally among BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, Variety Children’s Charity and Toronto’s SickKids Hospital Foundation. The remaining 70% of the funds raised by the Journey will be used by AASH to continue and accelerate its advocacy work.  To date, AASH has survived exclusively on membership fees and donations. As of mid-June, Povah has collected over $4,000.


Thanks primarily to Big Tobacco’s aggressive and virtually unfettered marketing and advertising campaigns – most notably in developing nations and as always, despite the industry’s vehement denials, targeting teens and even pre-teens – the WHO is predicting that unless drastic action is taken, the death toll from tobacco will actually double over the next 10 years.


Povah and his team hope their efforts will sufficiently inspire and motivate everyone, but especially politicians at all levels of government and all other policy-makers, police and bylaw enforcement officers, and others to “take off the kid gloves when dealing with the tobacco industry and its wide range of addictive and deadly products, do the right thing and tackle this issue with the very long, overdue, aggressive and effective action it deserves.


Povah encourages others to join him and his support crew along the way. In fact, he hopes to have busloads of tobacco industry targets – high school and even elementary school-aged kids – join the Journey, as he plans to personally deliver a message to Ian Muir, the newly appointed president and CEO of Imperial Tobacco, Canada’s largest cigarette manufacturer (Player’s and du Maurier).


So, despite a setback only a month into his journey, Povah vowed to keep on trucking because he says everyone has been touched in some way by tobacco-related disease.


Everybody has a tobacco story and none of them have a happy ending,” he said.


– by Joe Strizzi