Tak­ing a stand

Lo­cal group at­tends rally in Ot­tawa to sup­port pro­posal to stan­dard­ize plain to­bacco pack­ag­ing in Canada.

The Beacon Herald - - FRONT PAGE - TERRY BRIDGE STAFF REPRTER

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

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.

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