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Byron Shire
April 15, 2021

My old mate Billy

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Gayle Russell, Murwillumbah.

It was lovely to see the article, Vale Billy Snow, subversive BUGA Up graffiti artist,  – and there is more to my old mate Billy than BUGA UP.

Bill and I met in Sydney in 1977 and the fusion of us two activists – both anti-smokers – led to a multi-layered approach to the campaign against tobacco. We were promoting the message that non-smokers had a right to be free from tobacco smoke – the first time this message hit the airwaves.

The initial focus was the formation of the Non-Smoker’s Right Movement (NSRM) in Sydney in 1978 – with Bill, myself and Brian McBride as the founders. BUGA UP came a little later and was a radical arm whilst NSRM worked systematically in more legal ways. Bill was part of both, but became better known as BUGA UP Bill as the refacing of billboards really started to make a difference to the promotion of tobacco products.

What was also important though was NSRM. We took on the issue of smoking in public transport and planes – and ultimately the workplace. We lobbied the authorities. Our message too spread around Australia and we had some amazing break-throughs. We had button badges made up with the message ‘Your smoking is hazardous to my health’ and we  proudly wore these.

I remember Bill and I taking a carbon monoxide tester/monitor to Rooty Hill RSL in Sydney and sitting in the club measuring the levels of Carbon Monoxide. Our aim was to start to quantify evidence of pollution levels in workplaces or where people congregated. We were shocked at some or the readings we were recording.

The final breakthrough came with NSRM taking the case of a psychologist, whose asthma had become irreversible through exposure to ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) in the workplace. Leisel Scholem had spent many hours working with clients in her office – and in those days clients  were allowed to smoke in consulting rooms. Liesel worked in a community health centre from 1974 till 1986 for the Department of Health. The great news was that our action was successful before the NSW District Court 1992 with Leisel awarded compensation. The brilliant thing was that it was the first passive smoking case to be decided in a full court hearing and set a world precedent. Now that is something for us activists.

Both BUGA UP, and NSRM which finally morphed into Non-Smokers Movement of Australia, acted as  catalysts for the change that started to happen – that we appreciate today. And Billy was there as an inspiration to all of us back then.

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  1. Thanks very much, Gayle – we’re very proud, at Non-Smokers’ Movement of Australia Inc. to continue yours and Billy’s and Brian McBride’s work but devastated that smoking continues (legally condoned) in some workplaces, including smoking allowed / food banned outdoor cafes where infants and tiny children can be brought and exposed to the toxins, and at shonky “unenclosed”/ 75% enclosed gaming rooms, maintaining the “gambler’s trance” at pubs and clubs all over NSW, damaging the lungs and hearts of 100,000 workers, and also on the stage in many theatres around Australia. And let’s not get started on multi-unit housing – public housing, retirement villages and strata, where the toxins drift around and into buildings, as well as seeping within the buildings.
    Smokers (Nicotine-addicts) now have easy, affordable access to several nicotine replacement products- patches, gums, sprays (not the very risky E-cigarettes), which won’t harm the user nor others nearby.
    The battle for smoke-free lives, free from tobacco toxins, for everyone, everywhere, continues.

  2. Thankyou Gayle,
    I well remember the BUGA UP posters and got many a laugh driving up the pacific highway from Sydney to Mullum as a young man giving up smoking. Probably helped me kick the habit. Amazing what comedy can do.
    Trying to remember some of the Bugad up adds. They were pretty creative as I recall. The Marlborough man got a canning with large KOFF KOFF or something similar.
    They are precious these Bugs Up adds and should be preserved or at least photo’s of them and displayed in a prominent place.
    Hero’s like Billy give us strength to dig deep and keep up the spirit of spreading awareness of a deeper reality than the greedy material world and maintain a purity of heart to sail above the toxicity of hatred that is polluting our beautiful planet.


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