Updated below. The strong reaction of a resident in Fridley to cigarette smoke has led to a bill in the Minnesota Senate that would ban smoking in theatrical productions.
Sen. Barb Goodwin (DFL-50), who represents western and southern Fridley, introduced legislation Thursday to add "theaters" to the list of public places where smoking is unlawful in Minnesota.
The current state smoking ban gave an exclusion to theaters, Goodwin said, to allow for performances in which actors light up cigars or cigarettes.
"But we have a resident in Fridley who is very allergic to smoke," Goodwin said: Cigarettes bother her when she helps with theater productions behind the scenes or when she in in the audience.
"When she sits in the front row she has a strong reaction," Goodwin said.
Goodwin is chief author of the bill to remove the exclusion for theater productions. Sens. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) and Becky Sheran (DFL-Mankato) are co-authors.
"They can use artificial cigars and cigarettes," she said.
Rather Switch than Fight
That may not be much of a hardship, according to people in the local theater scene.
"A lot of theaters have already switched" to artificial cigarettes, according to Sheila Regan, a Minneapolis-based actor who also regularly writes about theater for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
Smoking onstage at community or school theater productions that take place on school stages is already prohibited, said Courtney Jahnke, who works behind the scenes at Mounds View Community Theater.
As for artificial cigarettes, a theater's "prop mistress or master [should] know where to get them," according to Jahnke.
Not Reviving Battle
Goodwin said her bill has nothing to do with a bar owner's attempt to exploit the exclusion in the smoking ban for theatrical productions.
But in 2009, a state Court of Appeals panel upheld a lower court's ruling that "theater nights" at bars violated state law. (Read the appeals court's ruling here.)
Could Goodwin's bill bring back past battles from when the Legislature banned smoking in public places? That's not Goodwin's intention either, she said, and she'd rather withdraw it instead.
If "people try to attach all kind of other stuff" to her legislation, she said, "then I'll just pull the bill."
Update (9:30 a.m. Friday): Philip Bither, performing-arts curator at the Walker Art Center, offered this response to Goodwin's bill:
I think it is a bad idea. It limits the range of expression that creators of theater have at their disposal. I understand why someone allergic or concerned about second-hand smoke may choose not to work on or attend a show that has some smoking from the stage, but to ban it altogether is an over-reaction.