A group of Hutchinson High School and Middle School students are on a mission -- to corral smoking at the Kansas State Fair.
About 25 members of the 130-member Communities that Care, a Reno County youth organization aimed at drug and alcohol prevention, attended the state fair board meeting Thursday, asking the fair to consider their proposal to make the grounds smoke-free, except for some selected areas designated for smokers.
To make their point, the group rolled in a clear case filled with cigarette butts that 15 students picked up during the fair.
"We picked up 2,650 cigarettes in one hour," Hutchinson High School junior Maddie Page told the fair board.
Maddie and two other Hutch High juniors, Colton Harper and Emily Wessel, led the presentation.
At present, smoking is not allowed in the buildings or in the grandstand, said Fair Manager Denny Stoecklein. However, this student initiative's focus is to expand that to most of the grounds, thus eliminating and reducing secondhand smoke exposure at the fair and creating a healthier, more desirable atmosphere for fairgoers.
The idea came about through RESIST, a statewide, youth-led movement that promotes tobacco-free teenagers and unites communities to create a voice against the tobacco industry.
At the 2013 fair, students assisted Erica Anderson, RESIST's state coordinator, in getting people to sign a petition in support of a largely smoke-free fair with designated smoking areas. Anderson said 5,329 people signed the petition, including some smokers.
Littering is one reason the group stressed that the fair should adopt their idea. There are potential fire hazards and consumption dangers for livestock that come with smoking, Emily said.
They quoted a fact from the Centers for Disease Control: Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths.
"It looks trashy," Emily said of the littering. "It doesn't make the fair look pretty."
The students also said adult smokers set a bad example for youth. The biggest reason such a policy should be implemented, they said, is the fact that secondhand smoke is harmful.
Maddie said one woman who works at the Reno County Health Department doesn't come to the fair because of the secondhand smoke.
"It's the experience of the attendees," she said. "Some people won't come to the fair because of the secondhand smoke."
Their idea isn't to make the entire grounds smoke-free, but to designate four or five areas as smoking areas. Those areas could be near a few of the gates, as well as outlying areas of the grounds.
Moreover, said Maddie, there is potential the group could get funding from the Kansas Health Foundation for signage for these areas, thereby not costing the fair money. The group could also help police the smoking by handing out cards making fairgoers who are smoking aware of the change in policy.
About 78 percent of Kansans 18 and older don't smoke, said Colton. And the Kansas State Fair wouldn't be the first to implement such a policy.
"Making it a smoke-free state fair with designated areas is a complete change; it isn't obscure or unheard of," Colton said. "Other fairs have done this."
That includes the Alaska State Fair and the Indiana State Fair. He noted that attendance didn't wane because of the designation, but instead rose, although increases aren't necessarily linked to being a smoke-free grounds.
According to an Associated Press story, the Indiana fair implemented a voluntary policy in 2008, which limited smoking to about 25 areas away from main thoroughfares.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota State Fair implemented a similar policy last year -- part of what some supporters said was a growing trend to make outdoor spaces tobacco-free.
"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," Brienna Schuette, a Minnesota State Fair spokeswoman, told the Minnesota Star Tribune last summer.
The Hutchinson student group even went as far as to create a model policy that the fair board could adopt.
Last year the fair celebrated its 100th birthday, Maddie said. "For the 101st year of the state fair, let's start something new -- a state fair better than the last."
The board asked a few questions but didn't discuss the proposed policy during the meeting.
Board President Ron Hinrichsen told the group that, according to their statistics, based on the total attendance at the fair, there were roughly 78,000 visitors coming through the gates who smoke.
"It's something new to definitely consider," he said.
Stoecklein noted that more studies would need to be done about how other fairs implemented such plans. The board would not make any decisions without getting more feedback from patrons.
"It's good food for thought," Stoecklein said.