On November 23, Anti-Tobacco Activist Errol Povah dipped his foot in the Atlantic Ocean, marking both one of his greatest accomplishments and one of his greatest disappointments. The 57-year-old Victoria, BC native had just completed a cross-continent journey on foot.
After travelling exactly 182 days, 2 hours and 20 minutes since dipping his foot in the Pacific Ocean, Povah’s Atlantic toe dip marked the end of his Journey for a Tobacco-Free World, were he completed over a marathon a day. The course brought him from his home in Victoria, British Columbia to New York City, in protest of the tobacco industry.
“My Journey for a Tobacco-Free World ended with absolutely no media in New York City,” Povah said during a phone interview on his drive back to Victoria.
“I was so disappointed, but it’s been that way almost the entire journey. I’m trying to raise awareness about the devastation this horrible industry is causing worldwide, and it’s been an uphill battle,” Povah said.
In a post on his Web site www.tobaccofreeworld.ca, Povah posted shortly after he finished his trek, “the disappointment of ZERO MEDIA in New York City is still stinging, big time.”
Povah, who ran through Warren and Saratoga counties in November, is the president of anti-tobacco organization Airspace Action on Smoking and health, and has been advocating for a cessation of the tobacco industry for the past 30 years. He said he believes the lack of major media coverage for his cross-continent journey is the result of his ultimate goal, and not very different from some of the political obstacles he’s encountered in his activism career.
“When I was looking for sponsorships and endorsements before I began the journey the politicians and organizations I called were very receptive, until I told them I was setting out to shut down the tobacco industry. I am not anti-smoker, I am anti-tobacco. It’s a big difference. Once I made that distinction, no one wanted anything to do with it. People fear the tobacco industry,” Povah said.
Despite a journey with no sponsorships and limited funds for his coast-to-coast trek, Povah held hopes that support would rally behind him as people heard about his mission.
“5.4 million people die from tobacco annually. If any other company created that much devastation we would put an end to it immediately. Bisphenol A was wiped out almost overnight in Canada because of its potential harm. Yet tobacco, proven time and again to kill millions and millions of people, remains,” he said.
Povah offered another analogy, stating that if two jumbo jets crashed every day, the equivalent of the number of Americans who die from tobacco, then the government would have to intervene.
“But the tobacco industry has clout and power over the media and politics. It doesn’t change my mission,” he said.
Povah said he finds the silence of the Tobacco industry during his run “fascinating.”
“Earlier during the journey, we held a rally right outside Imperial Tobacco in Canada and 50 people came. No one even answered our protest. If I was a business owner and someone was trying to put me out of business I’d meet them head on,” he said.
And while Povah was discouraged about the lack of media interest for his foot-driven mission, he said his reserve is unwavering. He repeatedly thanked those that did come out to support him, and there is already a homecoming run set in Victoria, BC to celebrate his efforts.
“The Home-Coming Run, a total of 123 km (1 km for each Canadian killed by tobacco, each and every day) will take place over a period of three days, from Tuesday, Jan. 11 to Thursday, Jan. 13,” reported www.tobaccofreeworld.]