Airspace Action on Smoking and Health

Airspace Action on Smoking and Health

Airspace Action on Smoking and Health (formerly "Airspace Non-smokers' Rights Society") is the principal volunteer-based anti-tobacco organization in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Airspace Non-smokers’ Rights Society was initially founded in Victoria back in the late 1970’s and successfully lobbied for one of Canada’s first ever smoking control by-laws. Bob Clarke was the Executive Director of the organization at the time. Rhoda Kaellis was also among the early members. ["Smoke-Free: How One City Successfully Banned Smoking in All Indoor Areas", by Barbara McLintock, Granville Island Publishing, 2004, p. 4] Dale Jackaman, then Secretary of the Victoria organization, moved to Vancouver in 1984. He and Norm Gillan founded the Vancouver branch of Airspace, and Jackaman was its first Executive Director. Jackaman then amalgamated both the Victoria and Namaimo organizations (run by Errol Povah) and formed what is now the province-wide Airspace organization.

One of the interesting aspects of the Airspace organization was its early adoption of computer technology to facilite its activist activities. Airspace was probably the first organization of its kind to adopt early a modem based bulletin board system (BBS) to transport its message to the world. At 300 baud, and running a modified pre-DOS CP/M operating system called ZCPR, on a now vintage 64K Kaypro II, Airspace was truly ahead of its time. Airspace then migrated to the Fido Net internetworked BBS system network and on to the Internet when it became more popular. Dale Jackaman, the architect of this BBS network, is himself a computer professional and facilitated this novel use of early BBS based computer technology. [ [ 604 Area Code BBSes Through History] ] Robert Broughton, another computer professional, brought Airspace into the Internet age. Airspace was one of the first organizations of this nature to have a web site, and it caught the attention of Philip Morris. Some screen shots from an early version of the site turned up in their internal documents; see [ Document 2047549852/9854] and [ Document 2084063121/3130] .

It was Errol Povah, however, who gave the organization its public persona. Povah adopted the alter ego of the [ Grim Reaper] and used it to create a form of street theatre whenever and wherever tobacco consumption is being promoted. The original Grim Reaper was Vancouver’s own Dr. Fred Bass, later Vancouver City Councillor, who donated his outfit and mask to Errol. Jerry Steinberg made the SICKARET for the Grim Reaper to carry.

The Presidents and Executive Directors of Airspace include Dale Jackaman, Deborah Wotherspoon, Jerry Steinberg, Robert Broughton, Heather Mackenzie, and Errol Povah, respectively.

Airspace had great success in lobbying for, and to some extent enforcing, smoking control by-laws in many communities. Certainly they were a thorn in the tobacco industry's side, and caused serious grief to a good many politicians who unwisely chose to oppose them.

Airspace was also heavily involved in combating tobacco sponsorship of sporting and cultural events across the lower mainland. A favourite target was the Player's Tobacco races. Airspace activists displayed Slayer's banners with the Grim Reaper logo replacing the sailor and "Grim Cut" replacing "Navy Cut." Other protests at golf clubs produced banners such as "Do More Away" for du Maurier tobacco. Aircraft banners were often put to good use and banners as "Tobacco money is blood money" were aloft when prize money was being handed out at tobacco sponsored golf tournaments.

Symphony of Fire and Jazz Festival protests followed and soon blatant tobacco sponsorships fell to the wayside.

In 1993, the New Democratic Party government of the day announced "tough" regulations to prevent the sale of cigarettes to children. Airspace was aware that these regulations were grossly inadequate, and organized a "compliance check" (or "kiddie sting") to prove it. Ten Airspace volunteers escorted five youths aged 12 to 16 who attempted to purchase cigarettes. They visited a total of 65 tobacco retailers, and 43% of them were willing to sell cigarettes to the underaged person. This effort got significant press attention, and Burnaby-Edmonds MLA Fred Randall took up the cause of getting stronger regulations, such as stiffer fines and suspensions, put in place. The provincial government started doing compliance checks of its own to measure the effectiveness of this effort.

During the early 1990's, Airspace staged regular protests in front of Imperial Tobacco's Vancouver office, which was on a busy street. These protests included an annual "Modified Christmas Caroling", using [ Clean Air Carols] . These protests came to an end when Imperial Tobacco (the Canadian branch of BAT) closed the Vancouver office and moved their Western Canada operations to Calgary.


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