Barb Tarbox: A Life Cut Short by Tobacco

Barb Tarbox started smoking in grade 7. She thought the occasional stolen cigarette from her mother’s purse would make her look cool, and that it would help her make new friends. Two years later, Barb was up to a pack a day.
  • A brief history

    When she was 21, Barb came home from Europe, where she was working as a model.
    Nineteen years later, with a husband and young daughter of her own, Barb was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.It quickly spread to her brain and bones, as well as on top of her aorta. The tumours were inoperable; diagnosed in September, Barb was told she would barely make it to Christmas, if then.

    But rather than quietly live out her final days in private, Barb decided to fight back. She wanted to speak directly to those kids, all across Alberta, who were the same age Barb was when she picked up her first cigarette—back when she could have done things differently. Barb’s message was simple. If you smoke, quit. And if you don’t, never start.

    In the months following her diagnosis, Barb spoke to more than 50,000 youth across Canada in person, and reached millions of other Canadians through her frequent radio and television appearances. After speaking at one junior high, Barb received 750 letters from students. Many teenagers handed over their packs of cigarettes, vowing never to smoke again.

    Young people everywhere have responded to Barb’s authenticity, her courageous mission and her unique brand of truth.

    Barb died on May 18, 2003, at the age of 42. But her inspirational work has not been forgotten—and she’s still helping Albertans quit tobacco today.
  • Barb Tarbox Awards of Excellence in Tobacco Reduction

    To honour and thank Barb 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, groups and businesses that have made a significant impact in the area of tobacco prevention, cessation, reduction or protection from second-hand smoke.

    Awards are presented annually in three categories:

    1) Recognition/Leadership Award

    Recognizes an individual, group, business, or organization that has had a significant local or provincial impact in the area(s) of tobacco prevention, education, cessation and /or protection.

    2) Youth and Young Adult Group Award

    Recognizes a youth (under age 18) or young adult group (age 18-24) that have made a significant local or provincial impact in the area(s) of tobacco prevention, education, cessation and/or protection

    3) Youth and Young Adult Scholarship Award

    Recognizes an individual (under age 18) or an individual (age 18-24) that have made a significant local or provincial impact in the area(s) of tobacco prevention, education, cessation and/or protection

    Prize: $2,500 cash

    The following awards were presented in Edmonton on November 30, 2016:

    Category: Youth & Young Adult Group Award
    Recipient: Cold Lake Youth Council 

    Youth can be strong and positive agents for change within our communities. The Cold Lake Youth Council set out to survey community members that use public spaces around Cold Lake to determine if the current tobacco free bylaw was being followed on playgrounds and in recreation spaces. Outcomes of that survey were presented to the Cold Lake City Council, and showed that young people are feeling negatively affected by smoking, and that more needs to be done to ensure these areas are smoke free. City Council passed a motion on June 14, 2016 to purchase and install 75 new no smoking signs as a direct result of the work conducted by the Youth Council. 

    Category: Recognition & Leadership Award
    Recipient (Individual): Katherine Haight 

    Katherine has a passion for tobacco prevention education. This became evident in 2010 when she began working closely with local Alberta Health Services staff to have  her nursing students deliver the provincial content for prevention education in Lethbridge schools. Kathy quickly identified the need for an updated resource. Kathy worked tirelessly over the next five years to create a comprehensive and leading edge tobacco prevention teacher resource that was released in Alberta this past September. The program is so well received, jurisdictions from across the country have expressed interest in the resource.

    Category: Recognition & Leadership Award
    Recipient (Organization): City of Lloydminster

    While many Alberta municipalities have implemented a tobacco (and tobacco-like product) retail licensing structure, the City of Lloydminster chose to be a leader in the area of how to use those collected funds. All fees collected from the licensing structure are put into a special fund called the “Tobacco Reduction Grant”. This money is administered by the City and is open to non-profit organizations, schools and volunteer groups. The goal of this fund is to raise awareness of the health risks associated with tobacco and to support the adoption of a tobacco free lifestyle.  The leadership shown by the City of Lloydminster makes them the first municipality to designate funds collected from a tobacco retailer license to go directly back into tobacco reduction activities. 

    The award was accepted by Scott Pretty and Patrick Lancaster.
  • Barb's Story: in her own words

    This 16-minute video captures the spirit of Barb.