About 20 people wearing spandex and sneakers stood in a line across a gravel path in Point Pleasant Park Tuesday evening.
Only one thing was missing: the cigarettes they usually smoke.
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“Three, two, one, and go!” shouted their coach, who wore a T-shirt with pink lungs on the back, and the group lurched across a rough line drawn in the gravel. With sweat dripping from their faces, they ran. Some jogged. A few of them walked.
Nine weeks ago each of them set individual goals, said Louis Brill, CEO of The Lung Association of Nova Scotia. Each person committed to run farther or faster by this weekend. They’ve been training twice a week since June for Sunday, when they will run five kilometers for the Credit Union Atlantic Lung Run.
“They think it’s weird that the lung association is doing this,” Brill said. The career coach started the pilot project – the first of its kind in the country – because he says society needs to start treating people who smoke like people who have an addiction rather than simply “smokers.”
“The reason this program started, how it started, is we get the stats that 20 per cent of Nova Scotians smoke. It’s high,” he said. “The big stat that jumped out at me was that 80 per cent of smokers want to quit. But we’re treating them, like, paternalistic. They’re not kids. They’re business people, they’re doctors, lawyers. They know they’ve got an addiction. A different approach needs to be taken.”
The pack returned, running back towards the starting line. Brill high-fived a couple of runners, then clapped to encourage them. Sandra MacLeod was among them, red faced but smiling.
“They’re supportive. They’re knowledgable. They’re motivational, is the big thing,” she said. “When you stop smoking you tend to lose motivation, and by doing this I’m hoping to get that back.”