Anti-smoking crusader Heather Crowe dies at 61

Anti-smoking crusader Heather Crowe, 61, dies of second-hand smoke.

Heather Crowe, the long-time waitress who contracted lung cancer from second-hand smoke and waged an anti-smoking campaign, has died at the age of 61.

She never smoked, but she was widely known for her television campaign in which she tells how she contracted cancer at the restaurant where she worked for 40 years.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002. She fought the disease into remission with chemotherapy, radiation and steroids, but ultimately lost the battle four years later.

Crowe was the first person to win a claim with the Ontario Workers Safety and Insurance Board for full compensation because her cancer was caused by occupational exposure to cigarette smoke.

"If I'd lost my hand at work they'd have paid me," she once said of the compensation award. "So if they're going to take chunks out of my lungs, why wouldn't I be entitled [to benefits]?"

Crowe's passing came one week before the Smoke Free Ontario Act took effect. The legislation bans smoking in any enclosed public places and restricts the promotion, handling and display of cigarettes in stores.

Jim Watson, the Liberal MPP for Ottawa-West-Nepean, was a frequent customer at the restaurant where Crowe worked. He called her the "matriarch of the anti-smoking movement."

"It's very sad that she's not going to be here to see [the legislation take effect], but she should be very happy that because of her influence, Ontarians will be able to breathe easier as a result of the legislation on May 31," Watson told Canadian Press.

Crowe was an unlikely activist. "She fell into this anti-smoking passion because she experienced first-hand what so many people have suffered over the years," he said.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty presented Crowe with an award named in her honour last December. The Heather Crowe Award will recognize the efforts of individuals and organizations in promoting a smoke-free Ontario.