Board approves 2013 smoking ban at San Diego County Fair


By Joe Tash

Smoking has been officially snuffed out at the San Diego County Fair, beginning in 2013.

Members of the governing board of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which oversees the state-owned Del Mar fairgrounds, voted unanimously in favor of the smoking ban at their meeting on Tuesday, May 8.

“I was thrilled, I think it’s a wonderful step for them,” said Kathy Lippitt of Rancho Santa Fe, who was one of 11 speakers who urged the board to enact a smoking ban at the fairgrounds. “They’re a credit to public health policy.”

The board’s vote means that as of next year, smoking will be banned anywhere on the fairgrounds during the run of the San Diego County Fair, which generally starts in early June and ends around the 4th of July. The ban would not be in place during other events at the fairgrounds, such as the annual horse racing meet. Fair board members said banning smoking during the fair is a priority because the event attracts so many families with children.

At this year’s fair, which begins June 8, smoking will be permitted only at one of four designated areas around the fairgrounds, down from five smoking areas during the 2011 fair.

Board member David Watson said the panel agrees that smoking is bad, but that fairgrounds staff had said a total ban would be difficult to enforce.

However, a number of speakers suggested that with proper signage, advance notice for the public, and training for fairgrounds workers, enforcement wouldn’t be a problem.

“Usually smoke-free policies are much easier to manage and communicate than designated smoking areas,” said Debra Kelley of the local chapter of the American Lung Association. “I believe the only thing the fair has to fear is fear itself. I think you’re ready to go smoke-free and it’s going to work.”

A number of speakers said a total ban is needed because many people continue to smoke outside of designated areas, exposing children to second-hand smoke.

A subcommittee of board members will now work on the details of the new policy in time for next year’s fair. Board vice president Frederick Schenk said the board will make sure the public has plenty of notice about the new policy, and that signs announcing the fairgrounds as smoke-free are prominently posted.

Another aspect of the new policy will be enforcement, he said. Most likely, those who light up at the fairgrounds in violation of the ban will be asked to leave.

“We’re not interested in punishment, we’re interested in keeping the air clean,” Schenk said

The committee will also find at least one location outside the fairgrounds proper, in a non-public area, where fair workers and vendors will be able to smoke. Schenk said this is needed because many workers and vendors live at the fairgrounds in trailers and motor homes during the annual event.

Board president Adam Day said a number of people have been coming to fair board meetings since he joined the board nearly four years ago, requesting that the board ban smoking at the facility. He credited those community members for helping to bring change to the fairgrounds policy.

Day initially suggested banning smoking during the fair by 2014, but Watson said, “Will it really take two years to implement this?”

Watson then made a motion to ban smoking by next year’s fair, which was supported by the full board. Board member Russ Penniman did not attend the meeting.

A staff report on Tuesday’s board agenda said anti-smoking messages will be included in the 2012 fair program and displayed on the video screen in the paddock area of the fairgrounds. Hypnotist Mark Yuzuik, who performs a popular hypnotism show at the fair each year, will also offer three one-hour smoking cessation seminars. Those sessions will be held from 3-4 p.m. each Thursday in the Turf Club, and no reservations are necessary.

Kelley, of the American Lung Association, said after the meeting that most of the major institutions in San Diego, such as Petco Park, Qualcomm Stadium, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have gone smoke-free, as have every beach and city park in San Diego County, except in the city of Santee. She said smoking also has not been banned at Sea World.

She said she was not sure if the fair board would go along with a complete smoking ban, but was gratified by the unanimous vote.

“It was great, it was inspiring,” she said.