Up in smoke

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Mixed messages came out of the Students' Union offices this past week, in what the Vice-President Op-Fi termed a "media fiasco."

On Fri., Oct. 3, the Calgary Herald ran a front-page story about a sponsorship deal between the SU and Rothmans Inc., which owns the cigarette brand Benson & Hedges and sponsors the Gold Club Series concerts. The story occurred less than a week after the Tea Party played a Gold Club Series concert in MacEwan Hall.

Citing confidentiality agreements, SU President Jayna Gilchrist did not immediately confirm details of an existing agreement. Since then, the SU said the sponsorship deal ended with the Tea Party concert, and that the deal has existed for at least a year or longer.

"That's the last concert. That was it," said SU VP Operations and Finance Gavin Preston. "All of this media hoopla is over the very last bit of this agreement when it's been going on for years."

According to Preston, the concerts are part of a larger deal that is still in place, although he wouldn't reveal any details.

"We can say there's a deal right now. The concerts are over, but what's left?" Preston said, adding the current deal was changed to shorten it. "At the end of the year, the next executive can walk in and say 'we don't want to be part of this anymore.'"

The day before Preston's comments, Gilchrist was far less specific. She said she "cannot say" whether any deal currently exists, and said "you can speculate" whether Benson & Hedges has sponsored SU concerts. At the Gold Club Series concert, Benson & Hedges girls were selling cigarettes.

Citing the same confidentiality agreement, Gilchrist would not say what the SU received. In a Tue., Sept. 10 meeting of the Students' Legislative Council last year, then-VP Academic Rosie Nagra put the figure for the George Clinton Gold Series concert at between $15,000-20,000. The Calgary Herald reported last week that a similar deal between the University of Lethbridge SU and Benson & Hedges is worth $7,000-10,000 per show. Preston said he does not know where those figures came from.

While any current deals may soon be ending, the door is by no means closed on partnerships with tobacco companies.

"The next executive can walk in and make the choice of whether or not to be involved in such a deal," said Preston of the current deal, adding the current SU is not planning on drafting policy on tobacco deals. "I would suggest that everything has to be done on a case by case basis. To start up a policy like that, you're limiting yourself."

A number of SU officials also said the U of C Health and Wellness Committee sparked the media attention.

"I really don't know who brought the issue to the attention of the media," said Joan McDonald from the committee, which is in the midst of an active campaign to discourage smoking on campus. "I think universities need to become more aware of tobacco industry tactics, and the risks that are associated with accepting sponsorship from tobacco companies. The tobacco companies are targeting the 18-24-year-old age group, and marketing techniques like event sponsorship and product placement are attempts to manipulate young people."

Gilchrist doesn't think deals with tobacco companies are a concern on campus, as cigarettes would be sold anyway.

"If we have exclusivity, it's not a big deal," she said. "We've had smokes on campus in the Den and the Stör for quite a while and that hasn't been a big issue."

The biggest issue for the SU, according to Preston, is how elected officials dealt with the media. He said the messages coming from the SU were neither consistent nor clear.

"What we're more concerned about is that there was a clear and concise message that should have been sent but wasn't," he explained. "The SLC is asking, 'how do we communicate with the media properly?'"

For more on this story, tune into CJSW 90.9 FM, Thu., Oct. 9, at 6 p.m.