For as long as the Kansas State Fair has been around, there have been smokers walking the pike.
Now, as fair officials prepare for the 102nd year, a group of teenagers hope smoking will go the way of the sideshow – gone, or at least limited.
“While it’s their freedom to smoke, it’s our freedom to be smoke-free, have clean air,” said Colton Harper, an 18-year-old who is helping spearhead the effort of the 150-member Communities That Care.
The Reno County youth organization aimed at drug and alcohol prevention has approached the fair board twice in the past year, bringing with them research and ideas on how to implement a proposal. On Tuesday, the fair board will explore the students’ request.
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The idea is not a new concept. There is a growing trend across America to curb smoking, and the movement has included fairs.
More than 15 state fairs have implemented outdoor smoking restrictions. Most have designated areas where smokers can go. A few have kicked butts altogether.
“Our target isn’t against smokers, it is for a healthy environment for everyone,” said Maddie Page, a Hutchinson High School senior, adding the goal is to make the fair “a pleasant place to be.”
The youth organization first presented the idea to fair board members in March 2014, rolling a clear case of 2,650 cigarette butts they had collected in one hour at the fair into a fair board meeting.
In March 2015, a group of about 16 students traveled to Manhattan to present research on the issue at the fair board meeting.
Smoking is not allowed in the fair buildings or in the grandstand seating area. Expanding the ban to the entire grounds, the group stated, would eliminate secondhand-smoke exposure at the fair and create a healthier, more desirable atmosphere for fairgoers.
Such a decision isn’t easy. Fair manager Denny Stoecklein and the board will weigh all the facts, including that about 20 percent – or 78,000 fairgoers annually – are smokers.
Other issues include accommodating vendors who might smoke as well as how to enforce such a policy.
“It is a pretty big step to take, and it is not one that, if you try it, it is something you can undo,” said Stoecklein, who added that he and his staff have been contacting other fairs on how well designated areas have worked.
Charlie Griffin, who has several stands across the fairgrounds, including Ye Old Mill and the Sunflower Terrace beer garden, said it is a touchy issue.
“I’m not a smoker,” he said. “I like the idea. I don’t know what it would do (limiting smoking) for fair attendance; it is hard to say.”
But whether such a policy should be implemented is tricky, he said.
“It’s a tough deal all the way around. You can’t make everyone happy.”