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More no-smoking drama coming to Capitol

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The curtain could soon fall on smoking as part of theatrical productions in Minnesota, under legislation introduced Thursday.

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The bill by Democratic Sen. Barb Goodwin would bar actors from puffing away as part of plays.

Smoking in theatrical productions is one of the rare exceptions to a state indoor smoking ban in public places. People aren't permitted to smoke in arenas, nursing homes, common space of apartment buildings and meeting rooms. Minnesota outlawed smoking in bars and restaurants in 2007.

State law permits smoking in performances as long as patrons are given notice in advance and it is noted in performance programs.

Goodwin, of Columbia Heights, said the bill was inspired by a constituent with an allergic reaction to smoking who has worked on theatrical productions and often attends them. But the senator said it goes beyond ambiance issues.

"If they can't do it in any other places why should they be able to do it there?" Goodwin said. "The influence on young people or others in the audience of them smoking is not a good influence you want anyway. It glamorizes smoking, especially when it's on stage like that."

Philip Bither, senior curator of performing arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, said he views a potential ban as unnecessary and unfortunate. The Walker only occasionally features plays with smoking and Bither doesn't think it would be the same with fake cigarettes or other substitutes.

"The sense of authenticity and realism is often important in the theater," Bither said. "In certain productions it would be lost."

He said one of the most memorable shows the Walker presented was a solo performance of Roger Guenveur Smith doing "A Huey P. Newton Story." In one scene, smoke from his cigarette swirled around him on stage.

"That visual effect added to the metaphor of this complex character," Bither said. Newton co-founded the militant Black Panthers civil rights group in the 1960s.

The proposal against smoking in plays would fully seal off what had been a loophole exploited after Minnesota's bar and restaurant smoking ban was enacted.

Some bars started holding theater nights where customers cast themselves as actors so they could smoke. That practice stopped after some legal setbacks.

In 2009, the state Court of Appeals upheld a fine against the owner of a Babbitt bar. Tank's Bar owner Thomas Marinaro was challenging his petty misdemeanor citation for violating the state smoking ban.

Marinaro had posted a sign on his door for an improvisational performance of "Gun SMOKE Monologues" that was being held every day from 3 p.m. until closing time. Smoking customers wore badges identifying themselves as "actors." Appeals judges agreed with a lower court that the theatrical production was a sham and not exempt under the law.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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