The Non-Smokers’ Rights Association is a non-profit health organization that has been at the forefront of tobacco-control efforts in Canada and around the world for over 40 years. The NSRA was founded in Toronto in 1974 by Rosalee Berlin, a registered nurse whose allergies made her particularly sensitive to second-hand smoke. It began as a small volunteer group dedicated to achieving clean air for non-smokers.
Soon after the group was formed, Ms. Berlin recruited the NSRA’s previous executive director, Garfield Mahood, who had been working on environmental issues for several years. Under Mr. Mahood’s leadership, the association broadened its scope to all public health aspects of the tobacco epidemic, resolutely putting the blame for this problem on the tobacco industry, where it ultimately belongs, rather than on individual smokers.
Professional, dynamic advocacy based on solid research and critical thinking have been the hallmark of the NSRA since its inception. Thanks to ongoing efforts in coalition-building with national, provincial and local health and community groups, the association has helped bring about a sea change in Canadian attitudes towards the tobacco industry and its deadly products. Notable achievements include:
- Successful campaigns to obtain public smoking by-laws in cities from St. John’s to Calgary. As early as 1977, Toronto Mayor David Crombie referred to the NSRA as “the most impressive and intelligent lobby I have ever known.”
- In close co-operation with the Canadian Cancer Society and other groups, forceful campaigning that finally led to passage of the federal Tobacco Products Control Act in 1988, including a ban on tobacco ads and the right to impose health warnings on cigarette packs, which until then had been voluntary.
- Despite intense tobacco industry lobbying, the NSRA convinced the federal government to accept a world precedent-setting warning system, involving stark warnings that take up 30% of the front and back panels of cigarette packs. Even before the warnings came into effect in Canada, NSRA staff were busy explaining the system to health groups in other countries, leading to similar regulations in Poland, Australia, South Africa, Thailand and Singapore.
- Following the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1995 decision overturning much of the Tobacco Products Control Act, the NSRA spearheaded efforts to obtain replacement legislation from the new Liberal government. After months of heated debate, the Tobacco Act was finally passed in the spring of 1997, re-instating the advertisement ban (except for sponsorships) and giving the federal government the right to regulate the contents of cigarettes.
- The NSRA played a leadership role in setting up the National “Tobacco OR Kids” Campaign, which pushed for a Royal Commission on the tobacco epidemic and for major regulatory changes and policy initiatives to prevent the supply of cigarettes to kids and to reduce adolescent demand for cigarettes.
- The association has also been involved in campaigns to obtain provincial tobacco-control legislation.
The NSRA has been awarded the World Health Organization’s Gold Medal for tobacco control, as well as the Canadian Cancer Society’s Award of Merit for creative and forceful leadership in the cause of cancer prevention.