Press Releases


MONTREAL, FEBRUARY 25, 2005– Vincent Massey Collegiate in Rosemount was described by Jewish Family Services (JFS) as its "model school" at the formal launch of TO-BACC-OFF, an anti-smoking program funded by Health Canada and presently in place at nine Montreal high schools.

Federal Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh was on hand for the announcement at the Montreal headquarters of JFS. The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has a successful partnership with JFS. It is now in the third year of the B.E.A.T. (Building Educational Assets Together) program, aimed at lessening the risk factors conducive to such problems as drug abuse, violence, sexual promiscuity, self-destructive behaviours, gambling and now smoking. JFS Executive Director Gail Small noted that Vincent Massey students and staff played an important role in the development of TO-BACC-OFF by participating in different focus groups.

John Paul I Junior High School and Laurier Macdonald High School in St. Léonard, Marymount Academy in N.D.G. and Wagar High School in Côte St. Luc are also part of the project this year. The others are from the private sector.

Minister Dosanjh wanted to hear from the Vincent Massey students about the success of the program. Secondary IV student Amanda De Melo, who was part of the initial brainstorming process, credited JFS for bringing an aspect of stress management into the process. In her opinion, if one learns how to deal with stress it is less likely they will turn to smoking.

TO-BACC-OFF is being geared towards Secondary I (Grade 7) students. While research has shown that overall rates of smoking are decreasing, the rates of adolescent tobacco use are alarming. Between 70 and 90 percent of high school students have tried at least one cigarette by age 17 and almost 25 percent have smoked by the age of 13.

Smoking, project manager Dr. Karen Hardoon says, has been regarded as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. For example, approximately 80% of adult smokers began smoking and become addicted before the age of 18. Research has also indicated that the earlier the onset of smoking, the more severe nicotine addiction is likely to be.

In addition to the serious health consequences associated with smoking, nicotine use has been identified as a precursor to risky behaviors, including other drug use. Furthermore, an association between disruptive behavior disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and cigarette smoking has been found.

A JFS consultation with 100 Montreal high school students regarding smoking and smoking sensitization revealed that they had not been previously exposed to the issues underlying the initiation and maintenance of their smoking behavior. The students highlighted several topics that they felt were important in the discussion of cigarette smoking. These included decision-making, weight control, peer pressure, stress management, and the influence of role models. "Students are well aware of the health hazards of smoking and did not feel that a focus on health risks would be an effective component of a prevention program," said Dr. Hardoon. "A review of the literature validated and added to these topics. For example, a number of studies have identified psychological factors in adolescence that are associated with an increased risk of current and future smoking, including depressed mood, attention difficulties, high perceived stress, and body image concerns. As such, a series of risk and protective factors that are involved in the initiation and maintenance of smoking behavior have been identified."

Hardoon says it is the goal of JFS, with the TO-BACC-OFF program, to address these factors. JFS has assigned staff to each of the schools. Significant follow-up is planned and nine new schools will be added next year. Mount Sinai Hospital in Montreal will also be implicated in the project and help organize workshops. Dosanjh expressed his hope that the results from this program can be shared with other groups across the country.

Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213