The Minnesota Department of Health served notice Wednesday that it is prepared to punish bars that try to get around the state indoor smoking ban by using a theatrical production exemption.
The agency is attempting to nip a growing trend of bars holding "theater nights." Employees and customers declare themselves actors so they can smoke inside. One bar in northeastern Minnesota bar was staging a show called the "The Tobacco Monologues."
The 6-month-old smoking ban has an exemption for theatrical productions, but Health Department Commissioner Sanne Magnan said bars appear to be improperly circumventing the law.
"It's time for the curtain to come down on this play of theatrics and get on with the business of protecting Minnesotans from the harms of secondhand smoke," Magnan said.
She said the agency will work with local health agencies to bring bars into compliance.
Under the law, establishments that allow smoking can be fined up to $10,000. Magnan said her agency would work to educate bars on the law before imposing penalties.
The Freedom to Breathe Act allows smoking during theatrical performances as long as patrons are notified in advance that smoking would take place and written notice is included in the performance program.
Magnan said her department sought advice from lawmakers and the attorney general's office before issuing its warning about compliance.
Mark Benjamin, a Cambridge lawyer who helped draw bar owners' attention to the exemption, didn't immediately return a phone message.
The law's legislative sponsors, Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth and Sen. Kathy Sheran of Mankato, didn't immediately return calls about the Health Department's action. They were considering new legislation to tighten the law.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)