How DC’s president left the pack behind

Photo by Cassidy McMullen

Don Lovisa, President of Durham College.

Smoking is bad for you – and quitting is hard. It’s a well-known fact. Leave the Pack Behind can help smokers quit.

Durham College (DC) president Don Lovisa smoked for about 20 years. He sat down with The Chronicle and Leave the Pack Behind (LTPB) representative Kimberly Buckeridge to talk about his smoking experience and how he quit.

Lovisa, 60, started smoking sometime in Grade 8, as it was a norm back then to experiment with smoking.

“At that time a lot of people smoked and it really wasn’t thought to be bad for you. Your doctor smoked and your dentist smoked and people around you smoked and you smoked, right?”

He says he probably felt dizzy from the nicotine and probably questioned why he was doing it in the first place.

“The ‘why’ was probably peer pressure – try something different, be part of the group. I think as young people, we do a lot of things based on peer pressure, don’t we?” says Lovisa.

He says he probably didn’t start smoking regularly until Grade 10, but remembers how he used to try to hide his early smoking habits from his parents and teachers at Saint Mary’s school in Fort Frances, Ont., near Thunder Bay.

“Behind the gymnasium there was a brick that was loose and we would hide our cigarettes behind that brick. So, your parents could never know, your teachers could never know,” says Lovisa. “So many people smoked, they probably didn’t notice it [the smell of cigarettes].”

He quit cold-turkey when he was around 34-years-old after a health scare, where he spent three days in hospital in the Intensive Care Unit.

“It really changed my perspective,” says Lovisa.

Lovisa describes smoking as “part addiction, but also part habit.”

During his quitting period, cravings crept up on him, when he ate, drank, and was out with friends. He says it’s “not just the addiction, but also the changing of your norms.” Despite the difficulty, he was determined to beat it.

“But there was always something in the back of your mind that would say ‘well if you don’t do this, you’ll be dead pretty early in your life’, so that’s not something I wanted to be.”

According to Lovisa, quitting changed a lot of things in his life for the better, including his health.

“When you quit when you’re younger, your body has a chance to heal. The longer you smoke, the less likely your lungs are going to heal. But you’re healthier, you feel better, you sleep better,” says Lovisa. “As time went on our society changed and it became easier to function in society. I didn’t have to go find my place to go have a cigarette.”

When telling his story, Lovisa describes things that would be outlandish to some students today.

“I’m trying to remember if there was still smoking in bars then – there probably was. Restaurants would be divided in half. Half would be smoking, half would be non-smoking,” says Lovisa.

“I remember being on airplanes and behind row seven, you could smoke, but from row seven to one, you couldn’t smoke. The non-smoking section was the first seven rows.”

He describes a time where one could smoke in class and in the hallways at school and where cigarettes and menthol cigarettes were prescribed by doctors for certain ailments like sore throats.

“People would walk into your office and the first thing you do is ‘do you want a cigarette?’  sit down and have a cigarette, and have your meeting and a cigarette. It was just part of the norm,” says Lovisa.

Peter Garrett, director of DC’s Students Inc., was also present to talk about smoking on campus. DC Students Inc. is DC’s new student association that oversees services such as the student health plan and Riot Radio.

He mentions how years prior to the Tuck Shop closing, it sold cigarettes. He says this was a major money-maker for the shop and when it stopped selling them, they started showing a loss in profit.

Lovisa notes it is not as socially acceptable to smoke now and the science supports the negative side effects of smoking. Due to this, as DC president, he has wondered about the possibility of completely banning smoking on at least one DC campus.

“One of the things we’re wondering about here is ‘is it possible to go to a non-smoking campus?’. It’s being tested by some other institutions now but, is it possible to maybe start with our Whitby campus, which is a smaller campus, and go non-smoking and through doing that, it’s our way of saying ‘it’s not acceptable, socially acceptable, on campus and we have these tools for you to help you quit smoking if you’re a smoker’,” says Lovisa.

While DC could ask the Ontario government to step in and regulate smoking on the premises, Lovisa wonders if it is the best idea.

“That’s the debate: do we really want to go to the government and say ‘put a regulation here’ and have the heavy-handed government cause the change or do we want to be socially responsible and try to do something on our own?,” says Lovisa.

LTPB is a tobacco control program funded by the Ontario government. It offers free personalized supports to people who are trying to quit smoking. These supports include free nicotine replacement therapy such as nicotine patches and gum, quitting resources, contests and referrals to the Smoker’s Helpline.

LTPB targets young adults because statistics show that one in four smokers has their first cigarette after the age of 18 and if they quit before the age of 30, they reduce the increased risk of health problems.

“It’s a good program. It’s much like MADD for drunk drivers. Look at the incredible impact this program had on people’s lives in the instance of people not drinking and driving anymore and the consequences have gone up. There are no consequences like that with smoking, except for your health but there are consequences socially now where you can’t smoke anywhere,” says Lovisa.

Lovisa describes the program as two parts – health risk awareness and the enforcement of the lack of social acceptance for smoking in today’s society.

“So I think the messaging is the right decision and they understand that what they’re doing is harmful to them,” says Lovisa, “and the campaign can get them to do that through understanding and a little bit of pressure. People start to look at what they’re doing and try to find ways to quit.”

Quitting is a personal choice, Lovisa says, adding it is difficult, but smokers have to ultimately choose to accept the fact that it is bad for them and then make the decision to do something about it.

“You have to find your own motivation and your own tools. It’s a personal choice. As much as we can tell people that it’s bad for you, and ‘you must quit,’ it’s a personal choice,” he says.

“But when you’re ready to have that conversation, find the tools, find Leave the Pack Behind, find the support you need. Go to your family and friends and ask them to support you.”

To learn more about LTPB, go to the Campus Health Centre or check out their website:

“I would never tell somebody, because I did smoke, that ‘you must stop smoking.’ It’s more important just to say to somebody if they ask you, ‘this will help you stop smoking’,” Lovisa says.