MINOT, N.D. — A tobacco-free day at the North Dakota State Fair isn't feasible, the Fair Board recently decided.
Tobacco-free advocates with Minot's STAMP, the North Dakota Health Department and Bismarck tobacco prevention coalition had asked the board in July to designate the Family/Military Day at the 2020 state fair as tobacco free. The board didn't act immediately but has since decided not to go that route.
Board President Gary Knell of Hazen said the board decided to continue following state guidelines regarding tobacco in public places. State law prohibits smoking in enclosed public spaces and within 20 feet of doors, windows or ventilation systems of public buildings.
Knell said it would be difficult to make a fairgrounds ban work.
"That would be virtually unenforceable for us at this time," he said. "If you are going to take that step, it has to be enforceable or it really doesn't do any good at all."
Advocates voiced disappointment in the decision and in not being given notice to be able to participate in the meeting at which the board later took up discussion for a vote.
First District Health Unit had a booth at the fair on Family/Military Day and asked people to anonymously submit votes on whether they want next year's day to be tobacco free. More than 160 responses showed 88% in favor of a tobacco-free family day. That exceeded the nearly 69% who favored a tobacco-free policy for the fairgrounds in a statewide poll last year.
"That's one of our priorities is smoke-free air, whether it's indoors or outdoors," said Holly Brekhus, director of health promotion at First District Health Unit. She said the health unit is working with parks and other outdoor venues to achieve that goal.
Minot Park District prohibits tobacco use in certain outdoor areas, such as around playgrounds and the zoo, where children congregate, but doesn't have a general ban in its parks. Parks Director Ron Merritt said the park board has looked at a total ban but elected not to do so because tobacco use is legal for adults and enforcing a ban would be difficult.
"We don't have the staff or the manpower to police something like that," he said.
The existing prohibition in certain areas is self policed. Park staff respond if there is a public complaint about a violation.
While denying a tobacco-free day, the board extended an invitation to tobacco-free advocacy groups to set up booths at the fair to advance the message about clean air and encourage people to go tobacco-free on the grounds.