Den smoke-free by fall

By Chris Beauchamp

Patrons who enjoy a cigarette and a cold beer after class will have to go somewhere other than the Den by September.

The University of Calgary Students’ Union voted unanimously to ban smoking in the popular campus bar effective Sept. 1, 2006–over a year sooner than the City of Calgary’s own smoke-free deadline of Jan. 2008.

SU Vice-President Operations and Finance Joel Lockwood stressed the plan carries risks for the Den’s bottom line, but said it was the right thing to do.

“Bars are very fickle,” said Lockwood. “But it’s all speculation right now what will happen. I don’t think it will shut the Den down.”

The plan will see the Den and all other SU-operated indoor facilities smoke-free by September, with the Black Lounge to follow Jan. 1, 2007. Tobacco sales in the Den will be phased out Sept., 16 with those in the Black Lounge to follow when that bar becomes smoke free.

Lockwood said the incremental timetable was decided in conjunction with Den/Black Lounge management in the hopes that long-term customers would have a chance to ease into the new restrictions and the potential financial hit to the SU would be less severe. He said the Den/Black Lounge generate approximately $180,000 each year in revenue for the SU.

The decision to ban smoking was made after the SU debated putting the question to students in a binding referendum on the February SU General Election ballot. A referendum was voted down as a number of members of council noted the majority of students are non-smokers and a referendum would only confirm the SU plan.

“As the financial stewards of this organization, to shrug this off to a referendum does not take our duties seriously,” said SU President Bryan West. “Although it’s great publicity and important for students to have a voice, it’s quite evident the vast majority of students want a smoke-free environment. I don’t think it’s necessary to go through the motions of a referendum.”

The Smoke-free U of C student club gathered over 1,700 signatures on a petition in favour of the referendum question.

“The whole point of collecting those signatures was we promised students they would have a say on this issue and they could decide their own tobacco policies,” said Smoke-free U of C President Ashley Fraser. “However, the resolution put forward was a big step in the right direction.”

Lockwood said the timetable to end tobacco sales in the bars was set in part because of an existing sales agreement with Benson & Hedges set to expire Sept. 15, 2006. The agreement gives exclusive sales rights to Benson and Hedges in the bars and also includes more prominent advertising space for the company in the SU-operated Stör. He said the agreement is worth approximately $80,000 each year to the SU, but stressed a renewed sales agreement exclusive to the Stor would maintain most of that revenue. He said tobacco sales in the Den/Black Lounge amount to only $8,000 annually.

Staff in the Den were pleased to hear the news.

“It means when I’m working here, when I hang out here, it’s nice to know I don’t have to breath second-hand smoke,” said Black Lounge server Rumi Jaffer, adding the campus bars are already some of the cleanest in the city.

Patrons are of course divided on the issue, but at least one won’t be back.

“I will be taking my business elsewhere,” said a self-described long-time patron who asked not to be identified. “The Den is one of the last smoking places on campus, but I suppose it was just a matter of time before it too became politically correct.”

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