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'Theater nights' in bars are not exempt from Freedom to Breathe Act

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has determined after seeking legal advice that "theater nights" being held in bars do not fall within the theatrical production exemption of the Freedom to Breathe Act.

The Freedom to Breathe Act bans indoor smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants. It was signed by Governor Pawlenty in May 2007 and took effect October 1. The bill included an exemption allowing smoking by actors and actresses as part of a theatrical performance.

Some bar owners have claimed the right to declare that all activity in their establishments is part of a "theatrical performance," declaring employees and patrons are "actors and actresses."

In reviewing the law, MDH 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. "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."

The U.S. Surgeon General has estimated that exposure to secondhand smoke killed more than 3,000 adult nonsmokers from lung cancer and approximately 46,000 from coronary heart disease in 2005. This does not include the health consequences to people with asthma and other conditions worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke. In numerous surveys, the vast majority of Minnesotans have said they support comprehensive measures to protect the public from exposure to secondhand smoke.

MDH is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act. The department has the authority to levy fines of up to $10,000 on establishments that fail to comply with the law. MDH's mission is to protect, maintain, and improve the health of all Minnesotans.

Minnesotans who have concerns about a facility's compliance with the law can find information at The Web site includes fact sheets, suggested letters that encourage compliance and other information about Freedom to Breathe.

Minnesotans can also contact their local public health department or send an e-mail to MDH at for more information.