Discussion of a proposed ban on the sale of tobacco and smoking products at the Orange County Fairgrounds took a philosophical turn Thursday at the Fair Board's monthly meeting, where the idea was voted down.

Speakers and, later, board members questioned the logic behind banning cigars and hookahs at a place where visitors can drink beer and eat deep-fried Twinkies.

"Why not ban sales of beef jerky?" asked Theresa Sears, a member of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society.

"If hookah pipes are drug paraphernalia, then what about beer bottles?" asked Brad Garner, an Orange County resident who likened fair vendor Mike Robbins' cigar stand to his version of Cheers. "I think it's so sad to see democracy gone wrong."

Many of the vendors and local residents who spoke against the proposal had come to the meeting to support Robbins, whose business, Paradise Cigar, would have been effectively shut down if the ban had passed.

Some claimed that barring the sale of smoking products would have been a personal dig at Robbins, who was critical of board member Dave Ellis' efforts to buy the fairgrounds in 2009.

Ellis said the ban would have helped the fair and swap meet's branding as family-friendly events. The fairgrounds commercial handbook allows the board to ban items, "objectionable from the standpoint of taste, quality or compatibility with the O.C. Fair." Switch blades, pornographic items and toy guns are already prohibited.

"I don't want it known as the hookah fair, the bong fair or the weed fair," he said. "I want it known as the family fair."

Board member Joyce Tucker said that she supported the ban because she is "an avid proponent of banning smoking in public places" to eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke.

But board member Ashleigh Aitken said that banning the sale of tobacco products may not be the best solution to a second-hand smoke problem.

"I was an advocate of making the children's area smoke-free," she said. "I would look at designated smoking areas."

In the final vote on the matter, most board members agreed to table the ban, but with the caveat that O.C. Fair & Event Center Chief Executive Jerome Hoban work with individual vendors to potentially phase out or limit the sale of potential drug paraphernalia, like bongs.

Robbins said he wasn't opposed to that possibility because bongs "are tall, and they're glass. They're fragile."

Board member Ali Jahangiri voted against the motion because he said he didn't think fair officials should involve themselves in vendors' businesses at all, unless they are selling illegal items.

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Contractor compliance

In other business, the board engaged in a heated debate about an enhanced worker safety policy, which was brought to the board before Pacific Amphitheatre improvements are put out to bid.

The policy, which passed, essentially requires that contractors comply with state labor laws, that most workers will be trained in State of California Apprenticeship programs, that a number of workers be certified at various levels of the state's general safety training.

Dave Everett, government affairs director for Associated Builders and Contractors, argued with board member Nick Berardino over the policy, which he said discriminates against workers certified out-of-state and veterans.

Berardino said organizations like Everett's have "ruined" the construction industry and that Everett's claims stemmed from efforts to make more money by cutting corners.

Several speakers from local labor organizations echoed that point, saying that any contractor claiming not to be able to afford to comply with the safety policy would likely be skirting regulations somewhere.

"This [policy] does nothing to put union people on the job," said Jim Adams, a representative of the Los Angeles/ Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. "This is a baby step."

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Boxing ambassador chosen

Finally, the board voted to take on local boxer Raul Franco as a volunteer ambassador to the fighting community. He will help the Fair Board explore opportunities for expanding the boxing program at the fairgrounds.

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan