News and Highlights

Youth push smoke-free fair

MANHATTAN – For a second year in a row, Reno County youth made a pitch to Kansas State Fair board members – please kick the butts out of the fair.

And, for a second year in a row, fair board members listened, but didn't take any action on the idea to limit smoking on the fairgrounds – saying it was an idea that needed more study.

Sixteen students who are part of Communities that Care, a Reno County youth organization aimed at drug and alcohol prevention, attended the state fair board meeting Wednesday. Their proposal is to make the grounds smoke-free except for a handful of locations designated for smoking.

The youth members are serious about corralling smoking at the fair – traveling two hours to Manhattan on a school day to make their case. They even presented the fair with a model policy along with research on how the idea has worked at other state fairs.

"We appreciate your hard work," said Fair Board President Ron Hinrichsen.

However, he said, "We want to look at the pros and cons before we can make a decision. It has gotten our attention and we will look at it from logistics and from expense."

The youth organization first presented the idea last March, rolling a clear case of 2,650 cigarette butts they had collected in one hour at the fair into a fair board meeting.

At present, smoking is not allowed in the buildings or in the grandstand. By expanding it to the entire grounds, the group stated, it would eliminate second-hand smoke exposure at the fair and create a healthier, more desirable atmosphere for fairgoers.

At that time, board members and Fair Manager Denny Stoecklein noted that more studies would need to be done about how other fairs implemented such plans. They also said they needed to get more feedback from patrons.

The group came back to the board with more research. Keeley Cunningham, a sophomore at Hutchinson High School, said they had more than 6,000 signatures on a petition to make the fair smoke free. They also collected comments, including from smokers who said it would be good to be able to smoke away from a crowd.

"It doesn't look clean, it gives the fair a bad appearance," Keeley said of the litter. "People pay to come to the fair, so they should get to enjoy the clean air as well."

Walker Johnson, a Hutch High junior, said one fairgoer told them while riding the train with her young child, the man in front of them smoked, which blew into their faces.

David Sotelo, a senior, said littered cigarettes can cause consumption dangers for the fair's livestock and is a fire hazard.

Adult smokers set a bad example for youth.

"We want to change that perspective," he said. "We know that if children smoke at a young age, they are more likely to become smokers for the rest of their lives."

Using state smoking estimates, the group figures about 20 percent, or 78,000 fairgoers, smoke, said Walker. The group showed the fair board a map with five proposed smoking areas across the grounds.

The group also talked to other successful fairs, said Keeley. She noted several state fairs that have implemented a smoking policy all tabulated an increase in attendance the next year. The Indiana State Fair saw an attendance increase of 4,000 in 2013. Meanwhile, the Minnesota State Fair implemented a policy in 2013 and attendance increased by 110,000 the next year.

Walker noted they couldn't correlate the attendance boost with the smoking policies, but such policies didn't hurt attendance, either. He added that Indiana fair officials had meetings regarding policy enforcement, although there has been little enforcement as most fairgoers have adhered to the change.

Keeley also presented board members with options and costs. Carla Smith, Communities that Care's program coordinator, said that her agency would donate five tents, at $374 a tent, that could be put up in the designated areas.

Private donations could be solicited for more permanent structures, Sotelo said. He added that the organization's members, along with youth groups from across the state, could help enforce the policy.

Sarah Key, health educator with the Reno County Health Department, also spoke in favor of the policy change.

Stoecklein asked the group how they would handle someone who said they wouldn't stop smoking. He also asked if there was any research on how many people wouldn't come to the fair because of a policy change.

Hinrichsen said they would take it under advisement and do more research.

Fair Board member Tom Tunnell, president of the Kansas Grain and Feed Association, said he was impressed by the group's passion.

"It's really great to see kids like you who realize the dangers of smoking," he said.

The fair board didn't indicate when they would discuss the issue again.

By Amy Bickel - The Hutchinson News
Posted On Mar 11, 2015
No Butts

Photo courtesy Amy Bickel

Sixteen Reno County Communities that Care members attended the Kansas State Fair board meeting Wednesday in Manhattan requesting the fair go largely smoke-free but allow for designated smoking areas across the grounds. The prevention group cited health issues of second-hand smoke.

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