Taking a stand
Local group attends rally in Ottawa to support proposal to standardize plain tobacco packaging in Canada.
It was a long bus ride, but well worth the travel time.
A representative from the Perth District health unit and three local high school students attended a rally in Ottawa to show their support of a proposal to standardize plain tobacco packaging in Canada. The vehicle containing the Perth County participants – all three are Grade 12 St. Mike’s students from Dublin – left last Wednesday and returned Thursday night.
“It was a lot of time on a bus,” said Lyndsay O’Donnell, the health unit’s youth engagement co-ordinator, “but it was a great opportunity that gave our local youth the opportunity to see how our government works.”
O’Donnell and the health unit’s Think Team members, Nicki Van Bakel and Rachel Klaver, along with co-op student Kristen Behn, were part of a 100-plus student rally organized by a youth coalition called Freeze the Industry. The event was part of its Plain and Simple Argument campaign.
O’Donnell recalled during the bus ride home – along the way they picked up students from Sarnia, London, and Huron, Oxford, Grey and Bruce counties – one of the Perth participants commented on the positive impact of having a large group of youth rally together on the same issue.
“It’s usually just our Think Team, our local Perth County youth, who are doing that work, but it was great for them to be able to see that they’re part of this bigger picture of youth advocacy and trying to really be the generation that ends tobacco,” O’Donnell said. “It was a cool opportunity for them to be a part of youth from literally across the province.”
Van Bakel echoed her thoughts in a press release from the health unit.
“We are working to create a tobacco-free generation, and plain and standardized packaging is one way to prevent youth from starting to smoke,” she said.
Klaver objected to the tobacco industry targeting young women with skinny cigarettes in glittery pink packaging.
“Most forms of tobacco advertising have been banned in Canada, but tobacco packaging and product design are one of the last tools the tobacco industry has to make their products appear cool or attractive to young people,” she said.
After the morning rally, the group had lunch with some members of Parliament – briefly meeting with Perth-Wellington MP John Nater on Parliament Hill – and observed question period.
“So they were able to actually go into the House of Commons and see where the bill they were advocating for was discussed,” O’Donnell said.
Bill S-5, which would amend the Tobacco Act and the Nonsmokers’ Health Act, is in its second reading.
“It was a great opportunity to see how our Parliament system works,” Behn said.
The local health unit hires high school students to form its Think Team, which meets on a regular basis to develop campaigns and educational opportunities in area schools. O’Donnell works directly with the team, which was established over a decade ago.
From left, Perth District health unit co-op student Kristen Behn, Think
Team member Nicki Van Bakel, Perth-Wellington MP John Nater, Think Team member Rachel Klaver and health unit youth engagement co-ordinator Lyndsay O'Donnell stand on Parliament Hill. The group was in Ottawa this past Thursday for Freeze the Industry's Plain and Simple Argument campaign.