Vendors at the swap meet and Orange County Fair could be barred from selling tobacco and other smoking products, depending on how the Fair Board votes Thursday
A board member has called for a prohibition on drug paraphernalia like bongs, in addition to cigars and cigarettes.
"I just don't think it's appropriate to sell those items at the fair," said board member Dave Ellis. "If kids want a bong, they should go up Harbor Boulevard."
One of the vendors who sells such smoking products claims he is being targeted for criticizing Ellis.
Paradise Cigar owner Mike Robbins spoke out against Ellis' efforts to buy the fairgrounds when the state offered them for sale in 2009. He said this move is "retaliation."
"I think that the fair is not some prissy family event," said Robbins, who sells during the annual event and the weekend Orange County Market Place swap meet. "It's also an evening of Bacchanalia, of drinking, partying, rock music. We're just part of that."
Ellis said the ban is "about the image of the fairgrounds," and to call it retaliation is a "fairly simplistic analysis."
The fairgrounds commercial handbook says that the board can ban items "objectionable from the standpoint of taste, quality or compatibility with the O.C. Fair."
A list of prohibited goods mentions "drug-related items" in addition to switch blades, pornographic items, stun guns and toy guns.
Also, the swap meet lease says goods must be "appropriate for a family atmosphere."
"If we can save one kid from getting hooked on nicotine, I support it," Ellis said.
Local school administrators have asked him why people are allowed to sell bongs at the fair, he said.
The San Diego County Fair, Cal Expo in Sacramento, and the Alameda County Fair do not have any prohibitions on tobacco, but do ban drug paraphernalia, a staff report said. None of those fairs have tobacco vendors, though.
Recently, the O.C. Fair cordoned off smoking areas, said board member Stan Tkaczyk, who supports sales of tobacco but not bongs.
"I don't think there's any problem with Mike and his family staying in business and selling what they have for years, except for the drug paraphernalia," he said.
In 2012, the fairgrounds took in $6,700 in rent and commissions from tobacco and pipe vendors.
Robbins said that a ban could put him out of business, as his primary sales are at the fairgrounds. He has been selling there for 32 years.
His pipes can be used for legal purposes, he said, like smoking tobacco or for medicinal marijuana.