Protest 'laced with plumes of irony'

Students smoked on Concrete Beach to raise awareness about Mustang Alley plebiscite

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Protesting smoking

Justin Wu

COME IN HERE DEAR BOY, HAVE A CIGAR, YOU'RE GOING TO GO FAR. Members of the 'Yes' campaign team for the plebiscite question regarding cigarette sales at Mustang Alley made their voices heard on Concrete Beach yesterday. Roger Waters should have been referring to Du Mauriers, but heck. Semantics.

Yesterday, Concrete Beach was filled with clouds of smoke as protesters fumbled to light their cigarettes in the cold.

Students gathered in front of the University Community Centre to raise awareness about the plebiscite question: “Should the USC operated retail store, Mustang Alley, continue the sale of cigarettes?”

The group of students held posters and, between drags on their smokes, yelled out to passersby: “Support freedom” and “Selling cigarettes is not like selling handguns.”

“It doesn’t make any sense to ban cigarettes. It’s faulty morals and it doesn’t make economic sense,” Dana King, a fourth-year English student and protest organizer, said.

Also present at the protest was science councillor Fred Wu, who initially proposed the ban on cigarettes.

Although he does not normally smoke, Wu attempted to make a point by lighting a symbolic cigarette along with the protesters.

But he had some difficulty.

“How do smokers do this?” he asked, trying to protect the flame from the wind.

Wu explained his presence at the event:

“I will gladly stand with anyone that feels that they’re being discriminated against based on whether they want to smoke. But this isn’t about smoking. It’s about cigarette sales.”

He said he was not against students being allowed to smoke on campus, but his problem was with the USC’s involvement in the tobacco industry.

“The majority of the students at Western would not want their student government to be involved in the tobacco industry,” he stated.

King was not satisfied with the explanation.

“His beef is silly,” he said.

Wu countered, “It’s not a beef. It’s inciting public discussion.”

King disagreed.

He thought the banning of cigarettes at Mustang Alley goes against the democratic rights of students.

“It contradicts the morals as well and the economic system that we’ve agreed on as a society,” King explained.

Representative for the Council Against Tobacco Sales Matt Fisher explained the ‘No’ side of the plebiscite: “If even one person is not afflicted by lung cancer later in life as a result of the success of this initiative, it will be worthwhile.”

He also criticized the USC for selling cigarettes to students with no warnings other than the minimum required by Health Canada.

The ‘Yes’ campaign for the plebiscite argues the removal of cigarettes will not only damage Mustang Alley’s finances, but will also affect the ability of students to feel a sense of choice and ownership over their lifestyle.

But Fisher said the financial dependency of the USC on cigarette sales is insignificant.

“The reality is that the USC has corporate income ... the profit from the sale of cigarettes at Mustang Alley is a minute fraction of the USC’s annual revenues,” he said.

According to the ‘Yes’ side on the USC elections website, “The University Students’ Council should not be a part of activities that limit the rights of freedoms of its membership.”

While Fisher said he expects the USC to accept the will of the students if they vote in favour of the ban, King doubted that would happen.

“Honestly we don’t believe that the plebiscite would pass and even if it did, we don’t believe that the USC would consider banning them ... so the protest is heavily laced with cigarette plumes of irony.”

Students can vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the plebiscite until 8 p.m. tonight by visiting www.usc.uwo.ca/elections/

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