The Orange County Fair Board approved changes Thursday to the fairgrounds' smoking policy, though some vendors warned that banning smoking altogether would severely affect business during the summertime event.
The 150-acre, state-owned fairgrounds in Costa Mesa already has several restrictions against smoking, though officials approved limiting it to designated areas during the events it produces. The smoking areas are still to be determined.
Per state law, smoking isn't allowed inside buildings or within 20 feet of them. During the fair, smoking is not allowed at the livestock area, Centennial Farm, the kids carnival, Grandstand Arena or Pacific Amphitheatre.
Mike and Jeanine Robbins, who run a cigar stand, have sold their goods at the fair for 35 years.
"We're part of the adult entertainment, which is a big element of the draw of the fair," Mike said. "We enhance the fairgoers' experience."
The couple stressed that the fair allows patrons to be free to relax by walking around the grounds smoking a cigar and enjoying a beer.
Roy Englebrecht, who organizes Fight Club OC, said disallowing smoking would impede the "energy of the show." Fight Club uses the Hangar facility and maintains a cigar lounge outside the building.
"Should there be a change, it would adversely affect my business in the Hangar," Englebrecht said.
The board received about 20 letters urging it to continue allowing smoking at the fair and during the weekend events held the rest of the year at the grounds.
The Robbinses noted that a significant amount of smoke is produced during the fair by the rows of barbecue pits. Those plumes are "not from cigar smoke," Jeanine said.
And they argued that sales of alcohol, which could be considered a health problem, were not being targeted.
Fair Board Chairwoman Ashleigh Aitken said the effects of secondhand smoke are particularly detrimental to children. Alcohol, she added, cannot be compared in the same fashion as nicotine.
"There is no such thing as secondhand alcoholism," she said, adding that putting children in a position where they are forced to inhale secondhand smoke is "immoral."
Aitken concurred that the barbecue pits' smoke is also a problem that must be addressed.
Director Gerardo Mouet said he would support designated smoking areas.
"It's a reasonable ask for the smokers," he said. "It isn't a complete ban."
Should there be smoking booths, they should be inviting, Director Stan Tkaczyk said.
Fair officials received three complaints last summer related to smoking, two of which were in reaction to illegal marijuana use at the Pacific Amphitheatre.
Officials said they had consulted with San Diego and Los Angeles county fair staffs about their smoking policies.
The San Diego County Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds gradually added designated smoking areas before completely banning smoking and the sale of tobacco products.
The ban caused an estimated 10,000- to 15,000-person drop in attendance in 2013, San Diego officials said. Smokers said they were being unfairly eliminated.
Smoking is still prohibited during the San Diego fair, but not at other year-round events in Del Mar.
About a decade ago, the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona's Fairplex banned cigarette sales. Smoking is not allowed inside buildings and the concert venue, but is allowed in open areas during the fair and other events.
L.A. fair officials are examining the effects of vaping and e-cigarettes.