Heated debate ends with a total smoking ban at the OC Fair

Orange County Fairgrounds patrons won't be able to smoke at the annual summer fair and other fair-produced events following Thursday's decision by the Fair Board.

Orange County Fairgrounds patrons won’t be able to smoke at the annual summer fair and other fair-produced events following Thursday’s decision by the Fair Board.

(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)
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Following a debate marked by profanity, personal attacks and harassment accusations, the Orange County Fair Board agreed Thursday to ban smoking at the annual summer fair and other fairground-organized events.

The decision goes a step further than a previous ruling in January that limited smoking only to designated areas within the 150-acre property, a policy first tested this summer that received mixed reactions following the 125th annual fair.

Eight of the nine board members, with Director Bao Nguyen absent, favored the total ban in the spirit of keeping the state-owned property safer from the effects of second-hand smoke.


“It is the right thing to do, in my opinion,” said Director Gerardo Mouet. “We have to think about public health.”

Their arguments were hotly contested by longtime fair vendors Mike and Jeanine Robbins, owners of Anaheim-based Paradise Cigars, who argued that alcohol and impaired driving are far more problematic than smoking.

They also pointed to the San Diego County Fair, where smoking is banned but has never been completely eradicated.

In Orange County, Jeanine argued, smoking will become “simply be more hidden, and therefore causing more litter.”

The Robbinses accused fair staff of stalking them, creating a hostile environment and incorrectly telling patrons that Paradise Cigars was one of the designated smoking areas this year.

“The petting zoo received more complaints than smoking,” Jeanine said, referring to her study of the summer fair’s complaint logs. “Should we ban that?”

Director Nick Berardino took exception to the Robbinses’ comments about fair staff.

“This isn’t a personal agenda,” he said. “It’s a tough issue ... everyone is doing their best with this being a public property.”

In a speech that lasted several minutes and included profanity and banging his fist on the table, Berardino said he felt too many vendors and concessionaires feel entitled to be at the fairgrounds.

Those individuals “think this public property belongs to them. It doesn’t,” he said.

Selling at the fairgrounds, Berardino added, “is a privilege. It’s not a right.”

Director Barbara Bagneris, responding to the tension in the room, said, “My heart is racing right now. This is a very hot topic.”

She asked to survey clients and fair patrons to get a better sense of their opinions, though Berardino quickly rebuffed the suggestion.

“We’ve talked about this long enough, he said. “This will be the fourth time. Let’s move it.”

While one of the directors was attempting to argue in favor of the ban, Mike Robbins stepped up from his seat and retorted the comment before Chairwoman Ashleigh Aitken cut him off.

“This is not a debate,” she said to the audience. “This is not a Thanksgiving dinner.”

The board’s vote will not preclude Paradise Cigars and others from selling smoking-related products during the fair.

The ban does not affect the majority of events such as Fight Club OC, that the fairgrounds hosts each year but are put on by an outside groups.