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In Switzerland, New High-Tech Lounges Put The Cool Back In Smoking

Smoking lounges are enjoying a comeback in Switzerland. The sixth-floor smoker’s room at the Bon Génie in Geneva, for example, boasts a Mad Men-style ambience and a state-of-the-art ventilation system. Beats having to puff away in the alley out back.

Is that cool? (ahuynh55)
Is that cool? (ahuynh55)
Emilie Veillon

GENEVAOn the sixth floor of the Bon Génie, sitting opposite the huge windows with a view on the rooftops of Molard Square in Geneva, it's easy to imagine you're in an elegant bar in the 1950s. You even have a ciggy dangling from the corner of your mouth – because smoking is allowed up here. In fact it's the raison d"être of this new smoker's lounge, whose retro décor, designed by the firm Version B, is something of an ode to men's fashion.

On one side are coffee tables and oak chairs covered with leather. On the other side, there are Egg armchairs by Arne Jacobsen, a black Bakelite telephone and an old flea market record player. It hardly comes as a surprise that in this era of ever more restrictive smoking laws, when people often have to brave the elements just to take a drag, the Bon Génie would be an instant hit among smokers. Besides offering a roof, which is something smokers already appreciate, it also provides an environment with real style.

It is not, however, the only such place in Switzerland catering to the needs and tastes of smokers. Several other refined smoking rooms have opened in recent years, including the vast Cigar Lounge at the Schweizerhof Hotel in Bern, which is also inspired by the 1950s post-war style, and the more modern Fish Tank at the Lausanne Palace & Spa, which was refurbished two years ago. These successful examples are leading more and more hotels, such as the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, to also consider smoking lounges.

"Today's smoking lounges don't have anything to do with the old smoky rooms for Havana cigar connoisseurs, or worse yet, the smoking areas in airports," says Antoine Wasserfallen, a professor at the Hotel School in Lausanne. "They are the result of careful research in design and new technologies."

Wasserfallen foresees that smoking lounges, still in their experimental phase, will evolve in the near future. "People like smoking lounges. But most of them aren't profitable enough," he says. "In some cantons, waited table service is banned, so you have to find solutions to make the sales easier, such as installing a serving hatch," the expert notes.

Thousands of tiny holes

With improved ventilation systems and careful décor decisions, the new smoking lounges could even bring smokers and non-smokers together – to enjoy a good cognac for example. At least this is what Vahé Gérard is aiming at. The director of Gérard Père et Fils, a smoking lounge inside the Grand Hotel Kempinski, had enough of hearing his clientele complain about drafts of cold air and clothes getting smelly. On his own initiative, Gérard developed a new, alternative system of permanent air circulation using laminar flow technology.

"This is like an air mattress, pulsated through the floor and breathed in through the ceiling every two minutes. The atmosphere of the room is therefore completely renewed. It can also be air-conditioned according to the season", explains the cigar expert, who set up a business, G-P-F Concept Management, to market the product.

Patented worldwide under the name Airkel and complying with energy and health federal standards in Switzerland, Gérard's system – which costs $27,000 for every 10 m2 – has been installed as well in the smoking areas at the Bon Génie and at the Starling C Bar & Lounge. You can identify it by the thousands of tiny holes on the floor and on the ceiling. The air is good to breathe there, and the furniture does not bear any smell either.

Another plus of the Airkel smoking lounge is the freedom it offers in terms of interior design. The size is not limited. It can be an independent glass cube, or be integrated into an existing room. Over the next few years, Gérard is even planning on marketing the product for home use. Are the aristocratic men-only smoking rooms of yesteryear ready to make a comeback in people's private homes? To find out, keep following the smoke.

Read more from Le Temps in French

Photo - ahuynh55

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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