March 17. 2013 1:02AM

Speedway smoking ban draws fiery fan reaction

New Hampshire Union Leader

LOUDON - Smoking will be banned at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway's grandstand starting this season, the speedway's general manager said in a message to fans, which prompted strong reaction from smokers and non-smokers.

Smokers still will be allowed to light up in designated areas, including concourse areas, parking lots and campgrounds, as well as souvenir, display and hospitality areas.

"The safety of our fans always comes first, thus this policy will decrease second-hand smoke exposure throughout our grandstands, yet still gives our fans the freedom to smoke anywhere else throughout our facility," Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway, wrote in a message emailed to fans. "It's our goal to give every guest the very best experience possible without contravening the experience of others."

According to a new smoking policy posted on the speedway's website, fans smoking in the grandstand will be asked by ushers to go to smoking areas, "and repeat offenders will be asked to leave."

Gappens wrote that the speedway is trying to align itself with state laws banning smoking in restaurants and bars and that he had received "overwhelming feedback" from fans about banning smoking in the grandstand seats.

New Hampshire's Indoor Smoking Act went into effect in 2007. According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, the law "mandates that smoking is prohibited in restaurants, cocktail lounges, and enclosed places owned and operated by social, fraternal, or religious organizations when open to the general public. Purposes for which such places may be open to the general public may include, but are not limited to, public meetings, voting, suppers, bingo games, theatrical events, fairs, and bazaar."

The announcement got a mixed reaction from fans on the speedway's Facebook page.

"Isn't there a family section for non smoking???? You do realize we sit outside right?????" posted Jess Leonard.

"Thank you for going smoke-free!....nothing better than the July race in the 90's temps and having cigarette smoke blown in (your) face," posted Michael Zablocki.

"I am extremely disappointed to hear about the track's decision to ban smoking on the grandstands," Michael Wiegand posted. "This decision was made after season ticket holders renewed their tickets. This new 'policy' is a deceitful business tactic."

"Mr. Gappens and everyone at NHMS, thank you very much for going smoke-free!! Just one more improvement for your great facility!" posted Dean Plummer.

"You just lost a long-time customer. (Four) seats and a camping pass are now (available). Hope the next person to enjoy our seats is as loyal as we were. A 10-year family tradition ends today," posted Dave Cohen.

"I have been attending Sprint Cup races in September for years and the only complaint I had was people smoking around me. I will now consider attending the July race as well because of this," Andrea Capron posted.

Speedway spokesperson Kristen Costa said the speedway does not believe the ban will hurt attendance or business. She said the speedway has received feedback from fans and families over the last five years asking that the grandstand be smoke-free. She said smoking areas will be equipped with televisions so fans leaving the grandstand to smoke can still follow races.

"We don't think there will be a negative effect," she said. "If anything, there will be a positive effect. It's a win-win because we will still have smoking lounges and dedicated smoking areas."

The speedway, which features hundreds of events each year, hosts two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. The New Hampshire 300 is scheduled for July 14 and the Sylvania 300 will be run Sept. 22.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the latest NASCAR venue to ban smoking in grandstands. Daytona International Speedway in Florida, Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina and Michigan International Speedway are among venues that in the last few years have banned smoking or limited smoking to specific areas.

From 1972 until 2003, NASCAR's prime sponsor was the cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and the sport's championship was called the Winston Cup, after Winston cigarettes. The sport is now sponsored by the company Sprint.