Del Mar Fairgrounds board to consider e-cigarette ban

By Joe Tash

The San Diego County Fair, which went smoke-free in all public areas for the first time this year, may go a step further in 2014 and ban e-cigarettes.

Members of the 22nd District Agricultural Association board, which runs the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds, said they want more information about e-cigarettes before making a final decision on whether to allow them at the fairgrounds. The issue could come back before the board in January or February, in time to change the fair’s smoking policy before the 2014 event starts in June.

“We’re a smoke-free environment. You can’t even tell them apart” from a distance, said fair board member Lisa Barkett, referring to electronic and tobacco cigarettes. “I’m completely against it.”

The board heard a report about the newly instituted smoking ban at its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 17. Anti-smoking advocates also addressed the board, urging it to consider banning e-cigarettes.

Electronic, or e-cigarettes, are battery-powered devices that produce a nicotine vapor. Supporters say they are less harmful than regular cigarettes, and are used by many people to quit smoking. Critics contend they encourage use by young people and they are also sometimes used to smoke illegal drugs, such as marijuana or even heroin.

Government agencies from the federal, state and local levels are considering regulations on e-cigarettes, which may come into force in the coming year.

As for the fairgrounds, officials said the smoking ban was a factor in reduced attendance at this year’s fair. Fairgrounds general manager Tim Fennell said the conclusion is based on fewer visitors after four straight years of attendance increases, and comments made by visitors and vendors.

Between 2009 and this year, the fairgrounds gradually reduced the number of designated smoking areas until they were phased out entirely.

According to a staff report, San Diego County is the only fair in California to completely ban smoking. Other entertainment venues, such as SeaWorld and Disneyland, do have designated smoking areas, while the San Diego Zoo and Legoland are also smoke-free.

At this year’s fair, smoking was only allowed in three non-public areas used by fair workers. For now, the fair board has left the policy unchanged, but that could change before the 2014 fair.

In spite of the potential hit on attendance, board members were supportive of the smoking ban.

“We are trail-blazers. We do lead the way and are a good example for the others,” said board president Fred Schenk.

“I’ve heard from all kinds of people saying thank you. I’ve had overwhelming public support,” said board member Adam Day.

Public speakers at Tuesday’s meeting also urged the fair board to take action to curb smoking of both cigarettes and marijuana at concerts held during the horse racing meet, which runs from July through early September.

“In a nutshell, Elite (security) needs to get inside the crowd instead of standing on the perimeter,” said Nancy Logan.

The type of music presented at the concerts also has an effect on smoking, speakers said.

“Reggae bands have a certain type of audience that does a lot of marijuana and cigarette smoking,” said Barbara Gordon.

Fair board members did not comment on whether they would support increased enforcement of smoking rules at post-race concerts.