The Caledonia/Southern Essex Tobacco Advisory coalition and some Lyndon Town School students want to find out how people feel about making the Caledonia County Fair smoke free.
Several hundred surveys were provided to area residents to see what they think.
The possibility of either taking the fair smoke-free, creating a few designated areas for smoking and making the majority of the fairgrounds smoke-free has been taken to the Caledonia County Fair Board of Directors. The board is considering what has been presented and is conducting its own research before deciding, said Caledonia County Fair President Richard Lawrence.
After the tobacco advisory group, based at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, surveyed nearly 400 people this fall about making the fair smoke free, some fair directors visited LTS to talk about the subject, said Lawrence.
"Six or seven of us went and met with the eighth-grade class and they had a visual presentation of what studies had been done in regards to the material that you inhale through smoking, and they had containers that had chew spit in them for lack of a better term, and also containers with nicotine in them and it looked like sludge is what it looked like," said Lawrence.
The fair directors were shown what a 65-year-old healthy lung looks like and what one that had had many years of smoking looked like to show the ill effects of smoking.
Students in the group told the fair directors about research papers they had done on the subject and shared their work with the fair directors, said Lawrence.
"They went into what they would like, what their preference was, to have the fair continue as we have it or to have areas designated for smoke areas and the rest of the fair smoke-free ... it wasn't all one-sided, all sides were presented," he said. Lawrence said fair directors did ask some questions.
The fair board, he said, has 36 directors and their opinions about the smoke-free proposal is split.
Lawrence said the students had ideas that the adults never had come up with.
"The one thing they came up with which was completely a shock to me and I never thought of it, and I'm not saying it's doable, but it shows thinking outside the box ... they suggested that we try it by having a one-day trial smoke-free day," he said.
Lawrence wanted to be clear that the fair does already have some smoke-free areas.
"You can't smoke in the barns and can't smoke in the grand stand," he said. "We already have areas where you cannot smoke. Fire safety is one reason and human safety is the second reason. We discussed this at our last board meeting so we knew this was happening, and we will discuss it at our next board meeting and then we'll see what happens.
"I thought it went extremely well and where we will go from this point is unknown and we will continue to discuss it," said Lawrence. He said hospital staff told fair directors in an earlier meeting that two other fairs in the state have gone smoke-free, and he will be doing more research on that.
There have been "discussions on a state-wide level as to what we might want to do," around this subject, at the Vermont State Fair Association, said Lawrence.
Rose Sheehan, Tobacco Programs coordinator at NVRH, was the adviser who invited fair directors to go to Lyndon Town School to talk about the idea of the fair going smoke-free. Getting the students involved adds to the effort the tobacco advisory has been working on.
"We'd been kind of talking about it for a couple of years whether we should consider working with the Caledonia County Fair around creating some kind of a smoking policy," said Sheehan.
After learning more about the other fairs in Vermont, the tobacco advisory coalition decided to conduct a survey and decided to go for it this year, she said.
Some of the surveys recently presented to the fair directors were completed at the fair this summer, she said. Others were conducted at various community events. In conducting the survey of 389 people, including 62 of whom identified themselves as smokers in the survey, "We learned that the majority of community members were either in favor of 100 percent smoke-free or a smoke-free area.
"When you're going through the process, you're afraid that people will stop coming to the fair, that people will become angry over this, but in reality that's not what happens," said Sheehan. "People do not stop coming to the fairs; we asked both [Vermont fairs which are smoke-free now except for designated areas] and they said no. And overall people want this ... the majority of people want this," she said.
One of the surveys, anonymous, but with the town of Lyndon written on it the top of the paper, sums up the reason for the crusade to help stop smoking-related illnesses. "Seeing my mom die of lung cancer at age 47 ... she was too young."
Of the surveys filled out, 138 people said a smoke-free fair was something they supported, 207 supported designated smoking areas and 45 said to leave the fair the way it is.
Even among the smokers in the group, 61 percent supported designated smoking areas and 16 percent supported a smoke-free fair while 23 percent said to leave it as is. Seven percent of the survey takers were younger than 18, 16 percent were ages 18 to 24 and 83 percent were 25 or older.
In the group surveyed, 29 percent were former smokers and 16 percent were smokers while the rest had never smoked. Of the group, 91 percent said they have a no-smoke policy in their homes while 87 percent said they have a no-smoke policy in their cars.