Nanny Statism Versus Artistic Freedom

Young woman smoking cigarette

In Minnesota there is a statewide smoking ban, but that ban contains an exemption for theatrical productions. If you’re in a play or some other sort of performance you’re allowed to smoke on stage. But now the nanny statists, whose appetite for the eradication of habits they dislike seems unquenchable, want to close that loophole too:

MINNEAPOLIS — During a key scene in the play “Venus in Fur” the lead actress lights up a Marlboro from her purse and takes a drag, tilting her head backward while exhaling a long stream of smoke.

Vanda smokes for only about a minute before dropping the cigarette into her coffee mug, but it’s a pivotal moment that begins the character’s transformation into an assertive woman. And some theater employees say it wouldn’t feel nearly as raw if the actress couldn’t smoke an actual cigarette on stage.

“If you’re going to be authentic to that aspect of a play, it’s essential,” said Bain Boehlke, artistic director at The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, where “Venus in Fur” currently is playing. “Just the smell of the cigarette smoke is part of the world of the play.”

Those moments of authenticity could become harder to pull off in Minnesota if lawmakers amend the state’s smoking ban to eliminate an exemption for theatrical productions. Now that alternatives exist, a state senator says there’s no reason actors should subject the audience to tobacco fumes or glorify smoking on stage, and she has introduced a bill that would ban the practice.

“It’s so much easier to use e-cigarettes or to use something else that doesn’t have all the carcinogens in it,” said Barb Goodwin, a Columbia Heights Democrat.

Right. Because lord knows that one cigarette voluntarily smoked in a big theater is going to kick off some new epidemic of asthma or cancer or something.

How about this: Tell the theater they have to put a warning on the hand bills that a real, live cigarette is smoked during the performance, and the audience can decide for themselves whether or not they want to be exposed.

Of course, that would mean choice – freedom – which is anathema to the nanny statists.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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