Local anti-smoking group honoured

  • Feb. 22, 2012 4:01 p.m.

The cast of Butt Ugly in Central Alberta has won the 2012 Barb Tarbox Award for Youth and Young Adults at the Alberta Tobacco Stakeholders Conference in Edmonton.

“It’s a great honour for Butt Ugly to receive this kind of provincial recognition from Alberta Health Services for the work we do in Central Alberta,” said Sandra Manning, chair of the Butt Ugly program board of directors.

Butt Ugly is an award-winning program that uses a drama production format to educate students in Grades 6 and 7 about the dangers of tobacco use. Since its inception in 1995, Butt Ugly has covered a wide area in Central Alberta, serving schools in Red Deer and rural schools in Central Alberta, reaching over 40,000 middle school students.

“I feel strongly that this program has made a difference to our students over the last three years. In fact, a recent survey of our students revealed that smoking was almost non-existent among our students. I think the Butt Ugly program is a big part of our students’ positive choice regarding this habit,” said Stu Henry, superintendent of Red Deer Public Schools.

Barb Tarbox was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2002 at the age of 41, after smoking since Grade 7. In a remarkably sort amount of time, cancers spread to almost every part of her body, including her brain and bones, and even resting on her aorta.

While some people would lie down and wait for death to arrive, Tarbox decided to share her tobacco story with Alberta’s youth in the hopes of persuading them to quit – or not to start in the first place. She traveled to schools across Canada and spoke to the media, using her own cancer-wracked body to tell of the dangers of smoking.

After speaking at one junior high, Tarbox received 750 letters from students. She had many teenagers hand over their packs of cigarettes.

And parents also vowed to quit to save their children from the same lonely fate her daughter would face.

Her own mother was also diagnosed with the same stage-four terminal cancer in the 1980s and at the time, Tarbox was warned the same fate would await her if she continued to smoke. It’s a message she tried to pass on in her talks to school groups.

Doctors did not expect Tarbox to live beyond Christmas 2002, she battled the disease to the end. She made her last public appearance on April 17, 2003, when she spoke to a group of junior and senior high school students in Edmonton.

By April 28, she checked herself into hospital, unable to walk or eat on her own.

She died on May 18, 2003 at the age of 42, leaving husband Pat and daughter Mackenzie.

To honour and thank Tarbox for her remarkable dedication, and to continue her legacy, Alberta Health Services has established the Barb Tarbox Awards of Excellence in Tobacco Reduction. The awards recognize Alberta individuals, non-profit groups and businesses that have made a significant impact in the area of tobacco prevention, cessation, reduction or protection from second-hand smoke.

Previous awards presented to Butt Ugly include The Alberta Association of Registered Nurses (now CARNA); 2001 Partner in Health, The Alberta Lung Association; 2002 Excellence in Lung Health, Red Deer Public School District; 2004 Way to Go Award, Red Deer College; 2005 International Award of Excellence in Education and Alberta Public Health Association; 2006 Disease and Injury Prevention.