By Loreth Beswetherick
Those who saw the Grim Reaper and his entourage in the village last Saturday can be forgiven for thinking he was protesting the Supreme Court ruling that saw the Workers Compensation Board smoking ban overturned.
But, the group from Airspace — a B.C. non-profit, anti-smoking organization dedicated to fighting the tobacco industry — was in town to voice their disdain for the du Maurier sponsorship of the concert being staged the Whistler Conference Centre that weekend.
The recent WCB ruling didn’t hurt though.
Airspace president Bob Broughton said it has highlighted their cause and brought more members and support to the group.
Broughton and his entourage handed out position papers Saturday slamming the du Maurier sponsorship of the Tea Party and Big Sugar concert, which they said amounted to a three-month long cigarette ad campaign targeted at youth.
Broughton said the tobacco industry advertising strategy has been to associate a cigarette brand name with something that potential customers find attractive. That includes fireworks, extreme skiing, fashion, golf, tennis, motor racing and music and the arts.
He said this promotion in particular was more blatant. It started out with a "smokers only" contest. Broughton said the "losers" get their names, addresses, phone numbers, age brackets, income levels and brand preferences into the Imperial Tobacco computers. "That data is easily worth 10 times as much as the $100,000 Imperial Tobacco gave out in prizes."
Broughton said there are people who have to deal with consequences of smoking on a daily basis. "Cancer and emphysema patients are not having a big party, tea or otherwise."
He said the more than 150 members in Airspace, founded in 1984, have either had problems with smoke in the workplace or who have lost close friends and relatives to tobacco.
Broughton said some people they spoke to in the village, including young teens, did not even know there was a concert in town but they did see the banner advertising du Maurier slung over the breezeway. "It is perceived as a great big cigarette advertising billboard. Why should anyone be surprised?"
Marilyn McIvor, Coast Garibaldi Community Health Services Society tobacco reduction co-ordinator society agrees.
"Tobacco companies are subject to a lot of laws regarding advertising," she said. "They cannot advertise the way many other companies can. They use different ways and this is one of them. What we are concerned about is that these bands were youth oriented and that their promotion was on radio stations that youth listen to."
McIvor said research shows that if tobacco companies can be discredited in the eyes of youth the kids are less likely to start smoking. She said this is one reason there is strong focus on the Grade 6 tobacco reduction curriculum taught in B.C. schools. She said it culminates in a mock trial where the tobacco company stands accused. Some kids act as if they work for the tobacco company while others represent the health sector and those affected by smoking. She said the tobacco reduction programs have been taught in Grade 6 and 7 classrooms for two years now and a Grade 4 and 5 program will be introduced next month.
Both Broughton and McIvor said artists, musicians and athletes should be a little more discerning about where their financial support is coming from.
"They should have more scruples," said Broughton. He said sponsorship of the arts goes back to the Middle Ages and farther. "Where would Michelangelo have been without a patron? That in itself is not new, but I think everybody should understand that those paying the bills have control and at some point it just becomes advertising."
Broughton’s campaign was backed by the British Columbia Lung Association, which was also in Whistler Wednesday and Thursday of this week to present two free public forums — one on how to quit smoking and another on new trends in asthma management.
"There is a great deal of activity focused on respiratory health in Whistler at the moment," said Diane Gills of the Lung Association. "The du Maurier concert and the promotion of this event are of a great concern to those of us working toward tobacco reduction amongst our youth as well as optimal respiratory health for all."
The results of a Whistler Tobacco Task Force survey of local bars and restaurants licensed to serve liquor was also released last week.
The survey, conducted over the month of March, shows the adoption of the WCB non-smoking regulations, before they were overturned, was going smoothly.
Of the 68 establishments surveyed, 99 per cent were complying with the WCB regulations. Most had no problems with patrons’ compliance and a number of establishments noted customers appeared to stay longer because the smoke wasn’t present.
A total of 81 per cent said they strongly agree they were well informed about the regulations prior to the Jan. 1 implementation date, while another 44 per cent said they agreed somewhat that they were informed.
Most interesting perhaps, was that 56 per cent said they would support a Whistler municipal bylaw banning smoking in indoor public places but they said due public process should be followed.