Tobacco fans who happen to have box seats or VIP passes to Riverbend can’t smoke this year, but they still can spit and chew.
Festival organizers called a news conference Friday morning to say that Riverbend will expand no-smoking zones at this year’s festival, which runs June 10-18.
However, smokeless tobacco will continue to be allowed across festival grounds, they said.
Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival, said that, in the future, the no-tobacco rule “is going to be probably more encompassing but maybe not. I don’t know.”
The development appears to be a compromise between Friends of the Festival and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, which sent a letter last year urging Baker to eliminate smokeless tobacco vendors and make the festival a smoke-free event.
He declined, saying Camel, USA Gold and Longhorn gave free samples to Riverbend patrons older than 18.
On Friday, Baker said those vendors were not invited this year, costing the festival $45,000 in revenue. He alluded to attempts to make up the sponsorship money “on the anti-smoking end.”
“We haven’t been successful yet, but I’m sure we will be,” Baker said.
The restricted areas include exclusive seating near the Coca-Cola Stage, where headliners play; seating near two secondary venues; and the children’s area near the Olgiati Bridge.
Patrons still may smoke in all other areas of the festival, Baker said.
Becky Barnes, administrator for the Health Department, said the restriction could “influence smokers to make a change to quit smoking.”
Asked how the ban will be enforced, Baker said Riverbend’s 1,400 volunteers will be enlisted and, in some cases, the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office will step in.
“We will ask [smokers] to leave if they don’t follow the rules,” Baker said. “Hopefully, that takes care of it.”
Baker said if violators become “belligerent,” they will be asked to leave or escorted out, not arrested.
Howard Roddy, chairman of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Health Council, emphasized the no-smoking policy’s effect on children, citing an area teenage smoking rate of 46.9 percent. At one point, he thanked a group of teenagers flanking several local dignitaries.
“I appreciate the kids coming out this morning,” he said.
One of the teens, enrolled in a pregnancy prevention program at the Harriet Tubman housing development, said the group was asked to attend the news conference.
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