Vice Squad
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Limits to the Theatre Dodge, Part 2

Minnesota's public smoking ban does not apply to theatrical productions, which allowed some bars to skirt the ban by declaring their festivities to be theatre. (The man struck back, of course.) Colorado avoided similar contretemps by not providing an exception for theatrical productions. But this means that certain plays or other entertainments cannot grace the boards in Colorado. Some theatres took the state authorities to court, arguing that the smoking ban violated speech protections guaranteed by the First amendment. The trial court ruled for the state. Bruce Ramsey, a columnist for the Seattle Times, continues the story:

The theaters appealed. In the appeal, attorney Bruce Johnson of Seattle's Davis Wright Tremaine argued on behalf of 444 theaters across America that playwrights include smoking in a script in order "to better convey a sense of character" and "to establish a mood or state of mind." There are even plays about smoking, such as Bill Russell's "The Last Smoker in America." And because playwrights have the right to prohibit groups from performing altered versions of their plays, Johnson argued, the Colorado smoking ban might mean certain plays could not be performed at all.

On March 20 this year, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against the theaters. Smoking, the judges said, "is not sufficiently expressive" to be afforded First Amendment protection. Public health trumps freedom.

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