Ag Society, Health Dept. at odds over smokeless tobacco

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Smokeless tobacco samples won’t be passed out at the Madison County Fair, but they could be distributed at a Sept. 20 truck pull at the London fairgrounds.

The Madison County Agricultural Society sees it as a chance to rent booth space. The Madison County-London City Health Department sees it as a “negative endeavor.”

Earlier this spring, the Ag Society began talks with Conwood Sales Co. about renting booth space at a June 14 truck pull, at several pulls at the Madison County Fair in July, and at a Sept. 20 pull—all set to take place at the fairgrounds.

The Ag Society proposed that the Indiana company pay $500 per event for a 20×20-foot space in the racetrack infield. The company’s intent is to “distribute samples of smokeless tobacco products in a responsible, discreet manner to legal consumers who enter the sampling area.”

“With the economy the way it is, we’re looking to expand to get more revenue coming in to help offset the cost of our events,” said Tom Fisher, Ag Society president, as to why the fair board voted unanimously to negotiate with Conwood Sales.

Health Department officials don’t like the idea and said so in a May 22 letter to the Ag Society signed by Health Department Board President Linda Houser.

“Our mission…is to ensure optimal health and wellness for our residents. We are committed to caring for our community,” the letter states. “The health district is charged with the responsibility of prevention and education. If your board does choose to continue with this negative endeavor, please know our prevention and education on tobacco use will be heightened.”

Health Department officials were most worried about the distribution of smokeless tobacco at an event attended by children—the county fair, said Susan Young, director of nursing. The tobacco samples represent an unhealthy lifestyle choice, she said.

There’s no chance the samples will be at the fair, however, because Conwood Sales informed the Ag Society in a May 23 e-mail that they could not secure samples in time for the fair due to an expired order deadline.

The company’s district manager wrote that Conwood Sales does want booth space at the Sept. 20 truck pull. Fisher said a contract has not been signed at this time.

“I understand the Health Department’s concerns. They have a job to do; that’s their business,” Fisher commented. “But I also believe that if you’re over 18, you should have free choice.”

While children are the Health Department’s top priority when it comes to the prevention of tobacco use, Young said the department also looks out for adults—those who don’t use tobacco and those who do.

“They might be old enough to go out and make their own decisions and buy tobacco, but we’re still concerned with their health,” she said.

Both Fisher and Young said the discussion about the smokeless tobacco issue has been an open and honest one between the Ag Society and the Health Department. Fisher has invited health officials to attend fair board meetings; he has offered to attend health board meetings; he also said the health department could set up an awareness and prevention booth right next to the smokeless tobacco sample display if a contract with Conwood Sales is signed.

If the contract for the Sept. 20 truck pull goes through, protocol for the smokeless tobacco sampling booth will be as follows:

• All persons must be of legal age (18 in Ohio) in order to receive a smokeless tobacco sample.

• Every consumer attempting to enter the sampling area will be asked for a government-issued photo ID in order to verify age and receive a sample. If there is no ID available, then admittance is not granted regardless of the appearance of legal age.

• All samples will be distributed in an opaque sampling bag before the consumer leaves the booth.

• Samples are kept in a restricted area in a manner in which no direct access is given to the public.

• Both the entrance and exit of the sampling area are maintained by Conwood personnel to ensure that no one who has not provided ID to verify legal age is able to enter.

The next meeting of the Madison County Agricultural Society is 7:30 p.m. July 2 in the Fair Secretary’s Office on the fairgrounds, 205 Elm St., London.

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