University of Calgary to be smoke-free by 2006

By Emily Senger

It is difficult to imagine the Den, or any campus bar in which the air isn’t filled with a smoky blue haze, but this scenario may become a reality at the University of Calgary.

On September 1, 2003 Dalhousie was the first university in Canada to go completely smoke-free. In Calgary, Southern Institute of Technology students voted in a plebiscite last November to go smoke-free by August 2005. If the Smoke-Free U of C subcommittee achieves their goal, the U of C will follow suit leaving the Den, as well as all other campus property, 100 per cent smoke free by May 2006.

SFUC is a sub-committee of University Health, Safety and Security Committee. SFUC was formed last fall to study smoking policy on campus with the end goal of banning all smoking and sales of tobacco products at the U of C.

“Our goal is to raise awareness about smoking policies and to take a broad look at ways to reduce tobacco use on campus. Smokers are not the majority, most people want clean air,” said Joan McDonald, a Human Resources Consultant at the U of C and a member of the SFUC sub-committee.

“We want to involve students as much as possible. We’re interested in their perspective and we need their support,” McDonald added.

Students’ Union Vice-President Events Alex Vyskocil represents the SU on SFUC but he is less than optimistic about viability of a smoke free campus.

“A lot of people say that smoke-free pushes healthy living but [smoking] isn’t illegal. The smoking policy [proposed by SFUC] wants to take away choice. It isn’t fair to students who do smoke. They haven’t provided options for the smokers.”

Another issue of contention between the SU and the SFUC is sponsorship by tobacco companies and sale of tobacco in the MacEwan Student Center. Last year, the SU was criticized for having the cigarette company Benson & Hedges sponsor a Tea Party concert in MacEwan Hall in November 2003.

“Companies like Benson & Hedges promote events to gain new addicts­–they’re looking for replacement smokers. We’ve got a national profile in MacLean’s magazine for being sponsored by Benson & Hedges–do we want that?” questioned McDonald.

“Tobacco is sold only in the SU building, the rest of the university has been ahead for years,” said McDonald, who also noted that MacEwan Student Center is the only building on campus that still permits smoking indoors.

In response to student protest and negative external publicity, the SU has decided to forgo any further concert sponsorship by Benson & Hedges in the upcoming school year.

“No concerts will be sponsored by Benson & Hedges but the SU is still trying to work out a sales contract,” explained Vyskocil. “The sales contract will bring in some money [for the SU] but we’re not going to promote them [Benson & Hedges]. The students said that they didn’t want cigarette sponsorship and we [the SU] listened.”

The sales contract under negotiation is much like the contract that the university holds with Pepsi and permits only Benson & Hedges brand cigarettes to be sold in the Den.

Vyskocil also worries there is not a diverse representation in SFUC and feels there is a need for more student representation before the anti- smoking policy can move ahead fairly.

“The committee is mostly community members and non-students. I see a problem with that. There’s not a good cross section of students,” stressed Vyskocil.

Ashley Fraser, a third year political science student, is one of three students active on the SFUC committee. Fraser believes that the Smoke Free U of C club she is hoping to initiate in September 2004 will provide a forum for student input on the issue.

“The [SFUC] club will bridge the gap between the SU and students and will give students the opportunity to speak for or against what we’re doing,” said Fraser.

She also believes that a smoke free campus is not about taking away choice, but about promoting health.

“If the SU pushes the campus to go smoke free it will show that they care about the health of students,” said Fraser.

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