Despite warning, local bar will keep up 'theater nights'
Theatrical performances will continue at Ray's Sport and Karaoke in Wadena, said owner Ray Meyer. This comes after a recent announcement from the Minnesota Department of Health determining that theater nights in bars do not fall within the theatrical production exemption of the Freedom to Breathe Act.
The smoking ban took effect Oct. 1, 2007, and included an exemption allowing smoking by actors and actresses as part of a theatrical performance.
Meyer said he will continue to have reality theater and have people smoke in his bar until he gets a ticket. Then, he will continue and take it to court, he said.
"It's all about rights," Meyer said.
In reviewing the law, MDH said it has determined that it has the authority to address "theater nights" and take enforcement action if the activity is an attempt to allow smoking in violation of the act. Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Sanne Magnan said MDH will work together with local health agencies to bring establishments into compliance if they violate the law.
"These bars are attempting to circumvent the Freedom to Breathe Act," Magnan said in the news release. "The law was enacted to protect Minnesotans from the serious health effects of secondhand smoke. We expect all establishments to comply with the law. It is time for the curtain to fall on these theatrics so that employees, and all Minnesotans, are protected from secondhand smoke."
Ray's Karaoke's theatrical production is an ongoing production of life in a bar, according to a program at the bar.
"The production is about real life in a bar setting including all aspects, from cleaning, setup, delivery, hiring, repairs, karaoke, drinking and smoking and putting up with city, county, state laws and harassment by the general public," according to the program.
Meyer said he got the idea to start the theatrical production after reading a commentary by Mark Benjamin in the Feb. 9 Star Tribune. Benjamin, a nonsmoker and attorney, spurred many bars around the state to have theatrical productions that include smoking.
When the smoking ban went into effect in October, Meyer lost a lot of customers, he said. Since he began having reality theater that included smoking in the bar, business has increased, he said.
The Wadena Police Department has been investigating the reality theater. A police report was sent to the city attorney for review of possible charges. If it is determined Ray's Karaoke violated the smoking ordinance, the charge is a petty misdemeanor, which carries a fine.