HUTCHINSON, Kan. - Growing up in Hutchinson, Maddie Page and Colton Harper have many fond memories of going to the Kansas State Fair.
The cigarette smoke is not one of them.
"We really love to go but if we could improve the environment enough to make it where the second-hand smoke had decreased, it would make it better," Page said.
The two Hutchinson High School juniors are part of a group called Communities That Care. It's a Reno County youth organization with 130 members who work toward drug and alcohol prevention.
Thursday, Page and Harper and about 20 other students from the group presented their proposal to make the State Fairgrounds smoke free except for certain designated areas.
"We understand we are starting the second century of the Kansas State Fair and we want to start it out with a new approach with a cleaner environment and a very attractive place to be," Harper said.
The students say their proposal calls for about five designated smoking areas.
"They would be close to the gates not back behind somewhere that's not pleasant for the smokers," Page said.
Currently, you can't smoke in the buildings or in the grandstand, state fair leaders said.
But the students say the second-hand smoke is still a problem for many fair patrons.
"There are some people that live right here in Hutch and they won't take their kids or they won't go because they have health concerns like COPD," Page said.
Their other big concern is littering. They say the fairgrounds are often covered in cigarette butts that make the fair less attractive and inviting.
During last year's fair, they worked with a statewide group called RESIST that serves as an anti-smoking voice in Kansas. The students conducted their own study.
"Fifteen students from Dodge City in one hour picked up 2,650 cigarettes," Page said.
The students also told the board there are concerns for animals ingesting the improperly discarded cigarettes.
They say during their work at the fair last year, they collected more than 5,000 signatures on a petition to make the fair more smoke free.
The group even presented a model policy Thursday night that they say the board could utilize. That proposal, in part, is based on what they say have been similarly successful initiatives at other state fair's across the country.
"Other state fairs have gone smoke free. Their attendance hasn't gone down," Page said. "Even though they might lose a few people that won't come because they can't smoke, a lot of people will come because they won't have to deal with the second-hand smoke."
The board acknowledged the students' hard work but says it would have to do its own studies. The board told the students it wouldn't make any decision without talking with more people across Kansas.
The students are hoping that as the board does its research, their proposal will only gain more steam.
"With community support, we can clear the air at the Kansas State Fair," Harper said. "That's really our goal."