Rexton — Seven percent of NB’s youth are smokers — the highest rate in Canada, which has continued to climb by about 2 percent since 2012. But it appears solutions may be on the horizon as N.B. school districts and cigarette manufacturers agree to place high-priority effort into ending youth smoking.
Perhaps most sensitive to the issue is the province’s education system, as 6 out of 7 youth who smoke say they adopted the habit during school hours or after school. As a result, districts all over N.B. are reevaluating their current smoking legislation. The most popular approach to overcoming the problem is a prevention/rehabilitation project called “Light Up the School.”
The man behind the project is Principal Donald Sullivan of Bonar Law Memorial School, who is promising noticeable results by 2016. The Manatee invited Sullivan to comment.
“Basically, Light Up the School is directed toward kids considering smoking or for those who already smoke,” he said with a smile. “It’s a kind of ‘lighting the way’ to a healthier lifestyle.”
He added, “It’s also about inflicting horrible consequences on those who smoke in or around school. Under this project, students who decide to light up a cigarette might as well light up the school, because punishments for smoking are now comparable to arson. We are treating the issue very seriously and we look at it the same way we see other teen vices such as sex or alcohol. Under Light Up the School, if kids want to smoke they’ll be forced to disregard authority and play by their own rules.”
While it has yet to see results, Light Up the School is gaining hot support. Sixteen New Brunswick high schools have already made commitments to fully install the program by mid-2015.
Cigarette manufacturers are also joining the fight. Peter Comeau, head manager of Sea Blue Cigarettes’ N.B. branch, has just started work on a 2-million-dollar ad campaign to dissuade young New Brunswickers from picking up the habit.
“To all the teenagers out there who are smokers or considering smoking,” he said, “we at Sea Blue want to let you know we understand. We know that you feel awkward and uncomfortable because hormones are raging and social pressures are overwhelming. You might be desperate to lose your virginity. Maybe your parents split up, or they can’t afford to put you through university. Perhaps your grandmother died, or another relative. And on top of everything, you long to forge an identity, you want to feel like you are something. But we at Sea Blue want you to know that smoking is not the answer to your problems.”
“Sure,” he added, “smoking can make you look and feel more comfortable and attractive. And sure, it is statistically proven that smokers lose their virginity at an earlier age. And we know that as you exhale that first, world-opening puff, you can watch each and every one of your problems disappear into thin air with the smoke and with ease. And yes, if you smoke and you ask yourself ‘who am I?’ you can answer with proud confidence, ‘I am a smoker.’ ”
“But there are health risks and you shouldn’t do it,” he continued, “even though many smokers end up living much longer than the national average without any physical or mental repercussions. I must stress that on behalf of Sea Blue, makers of fine cigarettes since 1874, smoking is not for teenagers. Smoking is only okay for full-blooded, sex-driven adults who don’t listen to nobody but themselves and are in full command of their own lives. Sorry, teenagers. You’re just not cool enough.”
The ad campaign launches January 2015.