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Continued: Minnesota State Fair draws smoking line

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 23, 2013 - 11:48 PM

Smokers can forget about puffing away while strolling the State Fair midway or waiting in line for a spin on the Ferris wheel.

The fair's board of managers voted to ban smoking in virtually all open-air space on the 320-acre grounds starting with the 2013 Great Minnesota Get-Together. Smoking, already prohibited in fair buildings or in entertainment seating areas such as the bandshell and grandstand, will be restricted to designated outdoor smoking areas.

"The fair is for everyone, and accommodating both smokers and nonsmokers is part of what we have to do to create a good family environment at the fair," said Brienna Schuette, a fair spokeswoman.

Many details have yet to be worked out before the fair opens Aug. 22 for its 12-day run through Labor Day, Schuette said, including how to deal with violators, how many smoking areas there will be and where they will be.

"They'll be easily accessible," she added, "and there will be a number of them throughout the grounds."

Still on the table is whether the ban on smoking will include outside dining areas that many food vendors offer. Some serve alcohol, and lighting up while having a Grain Belt or a chardonnay is a popular habit among the 1.8 million who attend the fair.

"Since we're still in the very early stages of developing this policy, a decision about whether smoking will be allowed in these areas has not been made yet," Schuette said. "There are still many variables to consider and logistics to fine-tune."

Schuette said that officials did their homework, studying what other state fairs -- and even Disney World -- do about smoking. "We have been talking about this for a long time," she said. "We observe what's happening and what works."

The fair is joining a growing list of public places -- among them municipal parks and college campuses -- with outdoor smoking restrictions.

Valleyfair, the metro area's largest amusement park, has designated smoking areas and bans smoking everywhere else, including outdoor dining areas. Target Field and its property adjoining the stadium went 100 percent smoke-free last spring. Players and fans can use smokeless tobacco.

Statewide, more than 150 cities and counties limit smoking in their parks, playgrounds, outdoor pools and other recreation areas, according to a leading advocacy group for nonsmokers.

What the State Fair is doing "is just part of a larger trend in our state of outdoor spaces going tobacco-free," said Emily Anderson, with the nonprofit Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota.

The Minneapolis and Three Rivers park systems are among the most well-known public spaces that have strict limits on smoking outdoors, said Anderson, whose group advises municipalities and others on crafting and enforcing policies on smoking.

In Minnesota, more than 30 colleges have smoking restrictions that include outdoor areas. St. Catherine University in St. Paul is completely tobacco-free, as is the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Not yet smoke-free on all outdoor property is the state's largest college, the University of Minnesota. "Not quite there yet," Anderson said. "But I don't think it's too far."

In addition to long-running health concerns about secondhand smoke, an incident at last year's fair illustrated the potential for injury from smoking in crowds. Two-year-old Sierra Kleindl was walking away from the fair parade and was accidentally poked in the eye and burned by a smoker with a lit cigarette. It was nearly a full day before she could open her eye. She has since fully recovered.

"I think it is wonderful," Sierra's mother, Melissa Kleindl, said about the fair creating designated smoking areas. "I wouldn't want anyone else to go through this."

The Kleindls are yearly State Fair visitors, sometimes making the nearly 200-mile trek from Graceville, Minn., on both weekends. "We still would've gone" even if no policy changes had been made, Melissa Kleindl said. "But the whole time I would've been paranoid."

Readers who left comments on the Star Tribune website Wednesday expressed strong opinions for and against the ban. One commenter hoped smokers would boycott the fair, while another said they should keep smoking in protest.

The fair's new smoking restrictions were approved during the board of managers' annual meeting last weekend, which included signing off on $6 million in improvements and maintenance projects.

The tobacco-use changes were spelled out before the board and were followed by "a little bit of discussion" and no opposition, Schuette said.

Use of smokeless tobacco will continue to be allowed without restriction, she said. Also, the fair's commissary -- between the midway and the DNR building -- will continue to be the sole location on the grounds for selling cigarettes.

The fair's board also approved leaving admission prices unchanged for a third consecutive year. Ages 13 to 64 will be charged $12; ages 5 to 12 and 65 and older will pay $10, with ages 4 and younger admitted free. Pre-fair discount admission tickets remain at $9, and parking fees stay at $12 per vehicle.

Approved improvements include starting work on repairing and restoring the fair's historic 1930s streetcar arch and installing hand-washing stations in the Food Building. All projects are funded through the fair's operating income and grants from its foundation. The fair receives no government aid.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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