Over the Hill

The Mid-State Fair banned smoking. But with marijuana on the rise, will that rule last?

Phil Dirkx is retiring after 25 years as a columnist for The Tribune.
Phil Dirkx is retiring after 25 years as a columnist for The Tribune. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

It was big news and good news for many people when Garth Brooks agreed to perform a second show at the Mid-State Fair. He decided to do it after all the tickets to his first show on July 27 sold out in less than 30 seconds. But to me that wasn’t the fair’s best news this year.

For me, the biggest and best Mid-State Fair news is that the fair will be a no-smoking event this year and in the future. In recent years, the fair has allowed smoking in some designated areas. But not anymore: Smoking and vaping are completely banned.

I haven’t personally tried vaping, but I understand it involves inhaling vaporized liquid containing nicotine. It’s often done with devices shaped like pens that contain electric elements to heat the liquid to a vapor. People also call them e-cigarettes. The liquids come in thousands of flavors. Some people who vape also still smoke cigarettes.

The nicotine in the vaping liquid is like the nicotine in tobacco — it can be addictive. Smokers and vapers may develop strong nicotine cravings and have to struggle hard to quit. They may never succeed.

A nicotine craving can be powerful. Someone near and dear to me began smoking in her youth and tried many times to quit. She sought the aid of doctors and religious programs. Finally a serious illness forced her to quit. But in a way it was too late. She has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD.)

So I’m glad the Mid-State Fair has banned smoking. But I’m worried that some future fair directors and manager may change that policy and again allow smoking. Only then it might be the smoking of marijuana, which California voters decided last year to legalize.

The front page of Saturday’s Tribune had a four-column picture of healthy-looking marijuana plants growing in this county. That picture was right next to the story about Garth Brooks announcing his decision to perform a second show at the Mid-State Fair.

So I wonder, will future fairs include the products of marijuana agriculture. Will ribbons and trophies be awarded for the biggest and the best? Will judges taste and smoke the competing marijuana products? Time will tell. But the present rules dictate no smoking of anything.

Marijuana smoke, however, wouldn’t be anything new at the fairgrounds. I can remember attending a grandstand show there several fairs ago and smelling marijuana smoke in the air. In those days pot was clearly illegal, and the law was still enforced.

Will we ever conclude marijuana is harmless? The American Lung Association is doubtful. It cautions us against any pot smoking because of the risks to our lung health. Pot doesn’t contain nicotine, but any smoke is harmful to our lungs and marijuana smokers tend to inhale more deeply than tobacco smokers.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.