DEL MAR — In 2013 the San Diego County Fair became the first comparable event of its size in Southern California to be completely smoke-free.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds, will not change that policy for next year’s fair except for the possible addition of electronic cigarettes as banned products.
According to a policy review presented during the Dec. 17 meeting of the 22nd DAA board of directors, there was an increase in the use of e-cigarettes this past summer.
Fairgrounds staff recommended allowing their continued use as a “noninvasive, litter-free alternative” to traditional cigarettes, especially since they are used as a way to quit smoking.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that use heat to vaporize a liquid solution that usually includes a mixture of nicotine and flavorings.
California law prohibits selling the product to minors. In San Diego, the county Board of Supervisors is researching potential regulations. Carlsbad and Vista have banned e-cigarettes in public areas where smoking is not allowed.
Anti-smoking advocates told board members use of e-cigarettes by minors is increasing dramatically.
“They think they’re safer (than tobacco cigarettes),” Peggy Walker said, noting that marijuana and heroin can also be smoked in e-cigarettes.
“I’m not a public health expert,” Director David Lizerbram said. “But at some point we need to articulate a public policy.”
Director Stephen Shewmaker agreed. “I’ve heard enough statistics to warrant an investigation,” he said.
Director Lisa Barkett said she is “completely against” the continued use of e-cigarettes at the fair. She noted that they are carcinogenic and health warnings have been issued.
“Do we really want to promote that?” she asked. “I don’t think it’s going to get any better.
“Our job isn’t to promote e-cigarettes to people who want to stop smoking,” she added. “We’re a smoke-free environment. … If we’re really concerned about our youth and our policy we should look at banning e-cigarettes.”
Board members agreed to address the issue at a meeting in January or February, which would give them time to amend the policy before the start of the 2014 fair in June.
According to the policy review, presented by Katie Phillips, fairgrounds staff believes the no-smoking policy adversely affected attendance at the 2013 fair. She said that assumption was based on feedback from attendees and online comments.
General Manager Tim Fennell said 2013 was the first time in several years attendance dipped at the event.
Despite the numbers decrease, food and beverage sales were up, Barkett noted.
“I don’t give a lot of weight to online comments” and newspaper surveys, Director Adam Day said, adding that he received “overwhelmingly positive” feedback about the no-smoking policy.
Phillips said most area amusement parks have an average of three designated smoking areas, although locally, Legoland and the San Diego Zoo are both smoke-free.
Area resident Dean Scott highlighted the irony that at many of those venues, smoking is prohibited near animals.
Despite any negative impacts the no-smoking rules may have had on the 2013 fair, directors said they did not want to make any changes to the policy after only one year.
Smoking is currently allowed in three nonpublic areas for employees and vendors “to control litter and serve the needs of smokers who work” eight-plus-hour shifts, the report states.
Most of the speakers at the Dec. 17 meeting voiced concerns about e-cigarettes as well as tobacco and marijuana smoking at the fair and race concerts.
In response to a request by Director David Watson, some also provided potential solutions. Watson said he particularly liked one from Janet Asaro, who recommended hand stamps that read, “No Smoking.”
Speakers also suggested bands announce the no-smoking policy prior to each show and security and law enforcement officers “get inside the crowd” rather than stand on the perimeter.
Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Haley said anyone smoking cigarettes or marijuana would be cited, but enforcement has become increasingly difficult.
“If one or two people are smoking in the middle of a crowd of 2,000, we’re not going send two people in there to stop it,” he said. “We do have a no-tolerance policy.
“But causing a mini-riot to write someone a citation (for an infraction) — that’s the balancing act,” Haley said. “We don’t want to put deputies or anyone from Elite (Security) in danger.”
Adding to the problem of enforcement is that “a significant number of people” have medical marijuana cards, he said.
“We don’t want to create a conflict, and we want to make sure people don’t get hurt,” he said.
The current no-smoking policy and potential ban on e-cigarettes apply only to the annual fair, not any of the more than 300 other events that take place at the state-owned facility, including the horse race meet.