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Comprehensive Smoking Ban Makes Alaska Latest Smoke Free Fair

6/6/2016

By Timothy Herrick

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The unregulated freedom to smoke cigarettes in public places - even in an open-air venue like a state or county fair - has long been a thing of the past. But to keep apace with ever changing social norms - and fears of health risks from second hand smoke- many fairs are responding to public health concerns with total smoking bans within the perimeters of the actual fair. The new bans are not just cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but e-cigarettes, vapes and other smoking devices. 

The Alaska State Fair is the latest fair to comprehensively ban smoking. Under the new policy, which will be effective at the 2016 fair, August 25 - September 5, smoking is not permitted anywhere within the fenced common areas of the fairgrounds property. The designated smoking areas - there are four of them - will be no closer than 40 feet to the main gated entrances to the fair. 

Right to Breathe
"It's not about the right to smoke but about the right to not have to breathe second-hand smoke. Smoking is an active choice. Breathing second-hand smoke is not," said Jerome Hertel, General Manager, Alaska State Fair. "With this policy, we are asking fairgoers who choose to smoke to do it far enough away from those who choose not to smoke. The smoke-free policy clarifies what that distance should be."

Alaska is far from an isolated incident. "Fairs going smoke-free, or at the least limiting smoking to certain areas has been a trend for at least five years, said Marla Calico President & CEO International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE). Calico started monitoring smoking bans at fairs in 2009, and said that as of April 2015, she informally noted 33 different fairs with a smoking bans, and actually stopped tracking the trend because it had become no longer unique. 

"I've not been monitoring it since because it seems more the norm, rather than some new and significant move," she said. "We saw it was a trend for a few years, we published those news reports in our E-newsletter or on our web page. It rarely warrants that now."

E-Cigarettes & Vapes
The smoke-free policy applies to all tobacco products. Specifically, it prohibits "carrying, holding, inhaling or exhaling the smoke of a lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette, plant material, or of any other lighted or heated smoking equipment, including e-cigarettes that create a vapor or any other oral smoking device."

Many smoking bans and other restrictions that pre-date the current e-cigarettes, vapes, and other devices quickly becoming in vogue, now are being rewritten and/or revised to include these new nicotine delivery systems under the ban. In order to avoid controversies whether or not the health risks are comparable between an old fashioned cigarette and the latest e-cigarette, the Alaska Fair is unique in that it bans them from the start. "We included e-cigarettes and vaping because the research is inconclusive about whether or not the carcinogens associated with these products is safe or unsafe," said Hertel.

While there are many benefits to the ban, such as a decrease in smoking-related litter and accidents, the main motivation was health. "The decision to be smoke-free came from the Alaska State Fair Board," said Hertel. "It is the intent of the Alaska State Fair, in enacting this policy, to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of its patrons, vendors, exhibitors, volunteers, and employees."

He added, that "it's not about the right to smoke but about the right not to breathe in second-hand smoke. Smoking is an active choice. Breathing in second-hand smoke is not."

Another goal was to create less social acceptance to what is considered a deadly habit. "Discouraging the inherently dangerous behavior of smoking around non-tobacco users, especially children, who often wrongly associate tobacco use with a healthy lifestyle," said Hertel.

Smoke Free Fairs
The Fair's decision follows a state and nationwide trend of "smoke-free" businesses and organizations. The Fair took a first step toward becoming smoke-free during the 2015 event, when it implemented a one-day, fairground-wide no smoking policy in conjunction with Wellness Day. 

Technically, the ban does allow some smoking, but further away from the actual fair. "We are not prohibiting smoking altogether, we are only asking that those who choose to smoke are doing it far enough away from those who choose not to," said Hertel.  "Not prohibiting smoking altogether, we are only asking that those who choose to smoke are doing it far enough away from those who choose not to." 

The new policy establishes four smoking areas, albeit outside the fenced in common areas of the fairgrounds and more than 40 feet from any entrance. Enforcement, Hertel said, will "use non confrontational methods to enforce the policy whenever possible. The biggest challenge is to make sure everyone is informed of the new policy. Cooperation from the carnival operator, our vendor association, and exhibitors will also be a key to success. We will train security staff and employees to deal with resistance but there will be no fines handed out." 
The fair will also post smoke-free signage at the gates and other prominent places throughout the fairgrounds, as well as distribute "BEE SMOKE FREE/thanks for not smoking" buttons to fairgoers at the entrance gates. 

In addition, the policy will only be in effect for the fair, not an overall Alaska State Fairgrounds policy. "The ban is just for the annual state fair," he said. "At this time no other events have to comply."

Ban Test
While the Alaska ban begins comprehensively, like many other fairs, anti-smoking restrictions evolved over years as anti-smoking proponents increasingly gained popular support. Previously, the no-smoking rule at the fair included eight designated smoking areas within the fair fence. Last year, the fair tested a smoke-free fairground concert. "In recognition of Wellness Day on Friday September 4, the Alaska State Fair implemented a fairground-wide Smoke Free day," said Hertel. "This meant there was no tobacco use allowed anywhere within the fenced common areas of the fairgrounds, including the designated smoking areas. The Smoke Free Day was positively supported by the public and several organizations including the American Lung Association and the Mat Su Health Foundation. "

At the December 2015 Alaska State Fair board meeting, those and other anti-smoking advocates requested that all 12 of the fair days become Smoke Free days. According to Hertel, the Alaska State Fair board soon "moved to implement a smoke-free policy for the 12 days of the annual Fair and it was approved."
Hertel said there was no significant opposition to the ban, while the support has been wide spread including Alaska Family Services, Set Free Alaska and the American Heart Association. "We applauded the Alaska State Fair for having a Smoke-Free Day in 2015, and we are even more excited that this year the clean air will last throughout the event," said Elizabeth Ripley, Executive Director, Mat-Su Health Foundation. "Smoke-free environments do more than protect the health of everyone who experiences them - they also change social norms about smoking, which leads to improved health for all."

Whether a fair adopts a smoking ban, and how restrictive it is, depends on the community as well as state and local legislation. "A fair is a reflection of its community," said Calico. "If this is an important issue for the community, then it will be an important issue to that fair."

No Smoking History
One of the fairs that Hertel consulted with when devising the Alaska State Fair policy was the San Diego Fair, whose own smoking ban has evolved from designated smoking areas to a complete ban. "In the state of California, you have to have smoking 20 feet or more away from an entrance to an establishment," said Linda Zweig, Media Relations and Public Information. Smoking was allowed in designated areas, such as near onsite drinking establishments. "But if families went there, and mom and dad decided to have a cocktail, a child could be exposed"

She said that members of the community got involved, and pushed for a more restrictive anti-smoking policy. By 2013, the fair moved smokers to designated areas within parking lots, outside the fairgrounds. "People who wanted to leave the fairgrounds would get their hands stamped. We really had no complaints from the fairgoers that I remember."

But one aspect of the policy had to be updated by the following year to keep up with new smoking trends. Following the close of the fair, the 2013 meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds, home of the San Diego County Fair, decided to expand the ban to include e-cigarettes, vapes and other electronic smoking devices.

"We didn't know about vapes when the law first passed, that's why we had to amend it," said Zweig. "It seems so long ago, I forget how that happened. We're a smoke free fair, and we were the first in California. But we have always been in the forefront, we employ more than 2,000 people during the fair, generate $35 million to the local economy and have more than 300 events annually." 

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