Pay To Play & The Smoke/Aerosol-Free Alaska State Fair

Contributed by Paul Johnson

Most are aware that the Alaska State Fair was smoke/aerosol (vapor)-free for its entire run last year, a first for any state fair in the U.S. Many may even applaud this move due to the smell and inconvenience of tobacco smoke. By the Mat-Su Health Foundation’s own estimates, this move alienates about 20% of the population of the Mat Su. 

The decision to make the Alaska State Fair smoke and aerosol (vapor) free has not come as a big surprise. 2015’s fair featured a smoke-free day sponsored by Breathe Free Mat-Su and the Mat-Su Health Foundation through a grant of $10,000. In MSHF’s online viewable grants, it plainly states, “This idea was suggested by Breathe Free Mat-Su and will help to keep the day smoke-free.” (Link:

To me, that had the appearance of pay to play, so I dug deeper. 

Going back as far as 2011, I found that MSHF granted the Alaska State Fair $100,000 for sewer improvements.

In 2012, the ASF was granted $65,000 to offset the $238,000 cost of the “plastinated” bodies’ display. 

In 2014, the ASF received two separate grants of $15,000 each. One grant was for “Sudsy’s Barn”, a hand washing demonstration trailer for the children. The other grant was for the Katavik Stage’s initial construction.

The total of these grants, including the $10,000 dollar grant in 2015, with the suggestion that the ASF have a smoke-free day, totals $205,000 over a four-year period. 

The ASF has alienated participants and vendors who smoke tobacco. That does not take into consideration the percentage of people who have become tobacco-free through the use of modern vapor products. They also took the suggestion of MSHF to use the word, aerosol, rather than the more benign term, vapor, in order to demonize the subject further. The fact of the matter is, modern vapor products have been proven to be at least 95% safer than smoking tobacco, while presenting no hazards whatsoever to bystanders. (RCP Report – 2016, NHI Report – 2016)

That being said, to ban tobacco smoking is questionable at best since the secondhand smoke or “passive smoking” issue is still up for debate, believe it or not. To ban vaping is absolutely unnecessary. In fact, it is detrimental to achieving the goal of making Alaska and the rest of the world tobacco-free. This is a product that poses little if any risk to the user, and zero risk to bystanders as proven by both U.S. and British studies. 

In the meantime, it’s completely acceptable to gobble down deep-fried everything, flame-grilled whatever, sit in the stands watching the demolition derby and monster trucks while they belch their noxious fumes, visit the petting zoo and livestock displays in methane-filled barns and sit in long lines on the highway and in the parking lot, breathing all of the hydrocarbons that the cars and trucks are producing. Perhaps in years to come, MSHF will suggest that many of those things be banned too. After all, they are a health risk and MSHF knows what’s best for you, even if you don’t.

The 2016 (smoke/aerosol-free) estimated gate was 293,424, down 6,274 from 2015’s gate of 299,698 (one-day smoke-free) and 403 lower than 2014’s 293,827 (no ban) figures, even though the Matsu’s population grew by 13.6 % over the same time period. Alaska as a whole grew by 4% from 710,231 to 741,894 over the ’10 to ’15 census period. If it wasn’t because of a decline in population, maybe it was because of the terrible weather. Nope. Sorry, but the weather was uncommonly pleasant through the entire run of the Alaska State Fair last year. It’s clear that BFA managed to alienate nearly 6,300 people through their efforts.  

In 2014, the average-per-person spending was $55. Adjust for inflation and call it $60 for 2016 (stats not available). Multiply that by the 6,274 people alienated by the ban and that totals $376,440. I’m sure the fair owners and the vendors don’t mind missing out on over a third of a million dollars though.

And never mind the reports in the ADN that the hiphop concert at the Borealis was engulfed in pot smoke. At least it wasn’t those nasty cigarettes or completely harmless vapor. I guess that makes it okay.

Here’s 2016’s grant amount: 
Date Awarded: June 2016
Amount: $ 3,350  

Purpose: Implementation of the Alaska State Fair "Smoke-Free" Campus Policy

A special interest group has spent a total of $208,350 over the past five years to impose their ideology on a private business. That’s $168,090 short of the profits lost (in a single season) because of those policies, and they are now permanent. That’s a bargain for BFMS and MSHF, not so much for the Alaska State Fair. Don’t be surprised if the Alaska State Fair owners and their vendors try to make up that difference by raising parking and gate fees, as well as higher product prices.