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 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.

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  • flamemeister

    We live in an insane asylum. There will be an adjustment soon, and it won’t be pretty.

    • Hannitized, Proofs obsession

      Is this that adjustment where you said Obama will lock up all the Jews? You know, that bit that you said you learned it from observation, not from watching Glen Beck?

      “For all the anti-Semitism that has emerged in this country over the last few decades, it is ironic that suddenly virtually everyone has become a 1930s Jew who firmly believes that what is happening is not really happening. I would not do well in a camp, and I am certain, based on collected data, that lists have already been drawn up along with the organization, training and arming of personnel for purposes of population transfer to camps. I do not get my information from Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, and suchlike whom I never listen to—I get it from observation, analysis, and considerable political, historical, and psychological knowledge and research. I continue to monitor the situation, develop new information sources and observe the behavior and “thinking” of my “fellow Americans.” At this point everything indicates disaster with very long term consequences. In any case, I am unlikely to be alive through much of it. I do consult with my children, two of whom are in all likelihood doomed liberals. They are the main concern, along with my wife. I would like to have a safe haven and preserved assets in place for all of them.” – Flamer

      • flamemeister

        Is this an interview? Are you planning on writing my biography? Oh my! Hannikins loves me!

        • two_amber_lamps

          Quite the consummate little stalker ain’t he? Too bad he can’t wash off the stench of his own urine.

          What’s so hilarious is Hannitard reads but doesn’t comprehend… nor does he understand simile/metaphor. He assumes since you said “Jew” in your earlier post, you literally meant “Obama will lock up Jews.” rather than lock up political prisoners or those on his “enemies list.”

          I wonder sometimes if Tranny is less an actual human being and more a piss-stained computer program/libtard-bot simulation.

          • flamemeister

            … and that of others: SAB’s golden-shower boy, the Honolulu Hydrant.

          • flamemeister

            Inside hannikins cockroach soul is a tiny bit of humanity gasping for air.

        • mickey_moussaoui

          Which one of handiwipes personalities has a man crush on you? The others will get jealous.

        • Hannitized, Proofs obsession

          I think it’s clear that highlighting your various paranoid delusions is the purpose of cutting and pasting your strange and out of touch statements. It should illustrate to any thinking person why nobody should listen to anything you have to say….and take you seriously.

      • Sual

        “…Obama will lock up all the Jews?”

        obama won’t lock up the Jews. He’ll just fund, arm and support Israels enemies to do his dirty work.

  • headward

    I still don’t see how the state would have any authority to regulate this action. The crowd willing purchased tickets to see this play. But this ties right back to the nanny-staters that have perverted the definition of public as anywhere they want to take out the ban hammer.

  • BlowMe

    The only thing dumber than this smoking ban is your logic.

    If a guy does a line of blow in the play, he ought to do a line of real blow.

    If you are going to be authentic, don’t use blanks. Shoot the guy for real.

    • flamemeister

      No, really, it’s your “logic” that’s dumb.

  • tim johnson

    old story, old loophole…should keep pushing the envelope…whenever a jackbooted thug questions your cigar or cig, simply say, “It’s ACTING!!!!!”

    Curtains may fall on faux theaterUpdated 3/7/2008 7:28 AM Curtains over an unused stage frame the patrons “acting” at the Old Clover Inn in Vadnais Heights, Minn., where people are testing a loophole in the state smoking ban that allows actors in plays to smoke.

    EnlargePhotos by Andy King, Special to USA TODAYKelly Solem, left, of Shoreview, Minn., smokes a cigarette with friend Bob Hinze, right, also from Shoreview, at the Old Clover Inn in Vadnais Heights, Minn., where a calling the bar a theater for the night allows the “actors” to smoke.

    By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

    VADNAIS HEIGHTS, Minn. — The Old Clover Inn here and scores of other bars are evading a statewide smoking ban by interpreting literally William Shakespeare’s observation that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

    Bars, nightclubs and taverns are holding “theater nights” to take advantage of an exemption in the ban that allows smoking by performers in theatrical productions. In participating bars, every employee and customer is an actor, and drinking, chatting, playing pool — and smoking — are part of the performances. Since the first performance on Feb. 9, more than 100 bars across the state have joined the protest.

    Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed smoking bans that cover restaurants and bars, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says. Four other states ban smoking in restaurants but exempt stand-alone bars. A 2005 Gallup Poll found that 40% of Americans supported setting aside non-smoking areas in bars, while 29% said smoking should be totally banned in them and 28% said there should be no smoking restrictions.

    The Old Clover Inn, a homey tavern on a county road, calls its nightly production As the Clover Turned. A playbill advises that the play features “numerous uncredited actors in the role of bar patrons.” There’s no actual performance, but everyone who donates $1 for a button that says “Act Now!” is considered an actor and is free to smoke.

    Old Clover Inn owner Dan Mundt says theater nights are a way to bring back patrons he lost when the ban took effect Oct. 1, but state officials served notice this week that they intend to end the bars’ experiments in showbiz. On Thursday, Mundt received a letter from the Department of Health notifying him that theater nights are illegal.

    Minnesota Health Department Commissioner Sanne Magnan says bars’ theater nights are not covered by the exemption and warns that her agency will begin enforcing the ban, which means establishments that allow smoking face fines of up to $10,000.

    “We really think that the curtain is going to fall,” Magnan says. “These theater nights are attempting to circumvent” the law.

    ‘A mean-spirited law’

    State Rep. Tom Huntley, a chief author of the ban, says the exemption was requested by the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and other theaters. “I can’t imagine Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca without a cigarette in his hand,” he says, but the law did not intend to permit bar theatrics. “If these bars keep going around the law, they better be prepared to pay a lot of money in legal expenses,” he says.

    Mark Benjamin, a lawyer who discovered the loophole and came up with the idea for theater nights, says he expects some bar owners to ignore the warning. “I don’t see any legal reasoning behind it,” he says. He predicts that if citations are issued, courts would “rule that this is a perfectly legal activity.”

    The Old Clover Inn faces new local restrictions, too. The Vadnais Heights City Council this week voted to require licenses for free theatrical performances. Currently, only theaters that charge admission must be licensed.

    That’s bad news for Mundt, whose revenue declined 30% after the ban. He laid off one of his five bartenders and considered closing on Mondays before theater nights revived business. Mundt plans to hold his final theater night Tuesday, before the new city regulation takes effect.

    Benjamin, a former smoker and former Marine, decided to take on the smoking ban after learning that his local VFW in Isanti and other military clubs were losing business. “It’s a mean-spirited law that disrespects our veterans and blue-collar bar owners,” he says.

    It took Benjamin three months to persuade a bar to hold a performance. The first was at Barnacle’s Resort on Mille Lacs Lake on Feb. 9. After the ban took effect, says Sheila Kromer, who owns Barnacle’s with her husband, Jim, “there were more customers outside smoking than inside. It was just terrible.”

    In January, the bar’s busiest month because it’s a popular ice-fishing destination, business was down 26% from a year earlier. “I was desperate,” Kromer says. When Benjamin suggested the performance, she told him, “What have we got to lose?” Benjamin showed up at the first Barnacle’s performance wearing velvet tights, a puffy shirt and plumed hat and proclaimed dramatically, but since then few productions have featured real acting.

    Huntley says a “short-term downturn” in business after the ban takes effect is to be expected, but most bars rebound after a few months. The law, he says, was meant to protect employees and patrons from secondhand smoke.

    Patrons would like a choice

    Customers at the Old Clover Inn say the issue is more complicated than that. “It’s a stupid law,” says smoker Jim Suchy, a disabled Vietnam veteran. “We should have put it to a vote of the people.” Terry Nyblom, a smoker and auto technician, agrees. “It’s amazing how these politicians can screw up somebody’s income without thinking twice,” he says.

    Retiree and smoker Dave Bergman says he came to the Old Clover Inn less often when the ban was being observed. He thinks bar owners should have the option of allowing or banning smoking, and customers could choose which sort of bar to patronize.

    Liz Wright, a nurse and occasional social smoker, appreciates smoke-free bars and doesn’t mind standing outside to smoke, but she likes that idea. “This is America and we should have a choice,” she says.

    Nancy Schwarzrock, a personal care attendant and non-smoker, prefers not to be surrounded by smokers but worries that places like the Old Clover Inn will be forced to close. “Who are we hurting? I have a choice to come in the bar or not come in the bar.”


    • two_amber_lamps

      How did you do that?


    • mickey_moussaoui

      Wisconsin banned smoking in bars some years ago. The “out” that was offered is that bars can build a separate smoking room with adequate window ventilation. Not many bars could afford the expense so they just went smoke free.

      Personally I think they should have offered to allow a “smoking license” for a fee
      (tax). At least it would have generated some income for the state.

      • JoeMN

        We can skip the drive to hunt for Christmas displays here and just pass by the local bars with their red glows out front in the -20 cold.

        Whenever I hear complaints I always stop them mid ramble, and point out the fact that even while you were held back by the two for one special on election day, busybodies were making other plans for your freedoms.

  • Kevin Flanagan

    Does this mean any sort of special effects that involve smoke are outlawed as well?

    • devilschild

      yes but they can still use pyrotechnics inside a crowded nightclub, burn the place down, and kill 75 people.

      • Kevin Flanagan

        Nothing is allowed in Minnesota except taxes.

  • JoeMN

    Minnesota is the ultimate in nanny states.
    These liberals have sold their souls in exchange for the opportunity to make life so bland for it’s inmates that they can’t wait to grow old just to enter a care facility.
    They wake up in a cold sweat over the thought of how many gun owners reside here.

    Democrat voting gun owners.
    It can be said that if you want to know what’s coming in future legislation here, look to California.

    But at least there, the insanity could be blamed on all the medical hooch being inhaled in the capitol parking lot

    • flamemeister

      “…life so bland…” This is the heart of it, put mildly. Liberals long for some sort of heat-death. They are the cheerleaders for entropy.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    So put on your mime costume and light up in public. Call it performance art. Just don’t speak.

    • yy4u2

      That kind of president is hard to find.

    • awfulorv

      And if you can fart, or vomit, on cue, you’ll be presented an award…

  • awfulorv

    If they’d re-name the piece of modern day trash “Venus in a Singed Fur”, they’d save on advertising expenses, while suckering the anti-smoking zealots, and the Peta folks to the same bad, just a guess, play.