BANGOR, Maine — The 161st edition of the Bangor State Fair began its 10-day run Friday under picture-perfect skies with more pleasant weather forecast through at least early next week.
“When we opened the gates at 2 p.m., there were two lines of people at the Dutton Street gate stretching back all the way to Main Street,” Bass Park Director Mike Dyer said with a grin.
Dyers said attendance this year could top 75,000, topping last year’s 70,000. Though many fair-goers are lured by the midway, other attractions were generating good buzz even before opening day.
These included the Aussie Kingdom show featuring Australian animals, the Human Cannonball and the Dino Dig, which allows amateur archaeologists to dig through a large pile of sand in search of such artifacts as dinosaur bones.
But another new element is drawing mixed reactions. Those who smoke now must do so in designated areas, namely five kiosks set up around the fairgrounds.
The kiosks aren’t hard to find. They essentially are white tents with no sides that are equipped with sand-filled butt buckets. They are well-marked with red lettering stating their designation as smoking areas.
Dyer said the policy was put in place to comply with state law banning smoking within 20 feet of an entryway, vent or doorway of a workplace or other public venue.
Dyer noted that the Healthy Maine Partnerships and Bangor Region Health and Wellness say that 20 percent of Mainers smoke.
“We’re doing this more to cater to the 80 percent who don’t smoke,” Dyer said.
The decision to limit smoking to kiosks elicited both cheers and jeers, depending upon whom was asked.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Chad Umbro of Hampden, who was at the fair with his girlfriend, Sarah Ashton, and their children.
Umbro said he enjoyed not having to put up with the smell of cigarette smoke, having it blown in his face or having his family exposed to it.
Ashton said she worried that a lit cigarette could burn a child.
Even some smokers agreed it was a good idea.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said Tonya Lawson of Plymouth while having a smoke in a kiosk. She said the new rule could help contain fair costs “because now they don’t have to go around picking up butts.”
Jodi Rayl of Newport also supported the change.
“I have a little one and I think it makes sense. I don’t smoke in my home and I don’t smoke with her in the car,” Rayl said. “For kids, I think it’s good. I figure if you’re gonna smoke, you ought to be inconvenienced, so I’m OK with the rule change.”
At least two vendors, however, were fuming.
“I think they’re going to lose business because the smokers aren’t going to want to have to look around for spots to smoke,” said Annette Watrous of Haynesville, who was selling raffle tickets to benefit the Anah Shrine Temple.
“We’re vendors and we are stuck in a tent for as much as 14 to 16 hours a day,” she said. Having to leave the tent for a smoke was a major inconvenience, she said.
Steve Rabasco of Auburn, owner of White Rabbit Emporium, agreed.
“They’re out of their minds,” he said Friday. “I own my own business and I work by myself. I can’t afford to pay somebody to help me.” Not being able to get away for a smoke was proving a hardship for Rabasco.
Dyer said smokers wouldn’t be kicked out if they were caught violating the rule.
“This is an education process,” he said, adding that the policy is new and will take time to get used to.
He said fair staff who spot someone smoking outside a kiosk have been instructed to hand out gold slips of paper the size of a business card that state:
“The Bangor State Fair is Maine’s first smoke-free midway. Smoking is restricted to designated smoking kiosks, which will be located throughout the venue. Maine laws protecting employees from secondhand smoke and prohibiting smoking in outdoor eating areas of snack bars and restaurants apply to this event. To find out more about these new laws and get more information visit www.WhatYouDoMatters.org.”
One smoking issue fair officials have not addressed is that some parents who aren’t comfortable with letting their children out of their sight are bringing them into the kiosks.
“We were worried about that problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a law other than common sense to apply to that.”
The fair runs through Sunday, Aug. 8. For a full schedule of events, visit its website: www.bangorstatefair.com.