Page last updated at 01:27 GMT, Sunday, 9 March 2008

US drinkers upstage smoking ban

Courtney Conk wears an "Act Now" badge as she smokes in a bar in Minnesota
Minnesota smokers become "actors" to get around the ban

Bars in Minnesota have found a dramatic way to get around the US state's recently introduced smoking ban.

The law grants an exception from the ban to performers in theatrical productions. So the bars have become theatres, and their customers, actors.

Now some bars print bills listing the "cast" of bartenders, and ashtrays become "props". Drinkers don costumes and attempt strange accents.

But a health official said it was time for the curtain to fall on the ploy.

'Before the Ban'

At the Rock, a heavy-metal bar in Maplewood, owner Brian Bauman explained why his clientele were doing little more than sitting around, smoking and drinking to a soundtrack of deafening music.

The entrance to a bar-turned-"theatre" in Minnesota
It's turned into the most fun thing I can imagine
Lisa Anderson
Bar owner

"They're playing themselves before 1 October - you know, before there was a smoking ban," he said, according to the Associated Press.

"We call the production, Before the Ban!"

Other bars have taken to the scheme with greater gusto, with customers dressing up in costume, the entrance labelled "stage door" and promising productions such as the Tobacco Monologues.

Up to 100 bars across the state are relying on the legal loophole to allow smokers to continue lighting up.

Health warning

But the state's health department says they are indeed breaking the law, and has threatened to hit them with fines of up to $10,000 (£5,000).

"The law was enacted to protect Minnesotans from the serious health effects of second-hand smoke," said Sanne Magnan, the Minnesota health commissioner.

She said the "theatrics" would have to end.

But bar owners fear their takings will fall once the ban is reimposed, while others will miss the antics.

"It's turned into the most fun thing I can imagine," said Lisa Anderson, owner of a bar in Hall City.

Read a selection of your comments on this story:

If bars would simply put in air purifiers like many bars here (it is still legal to smoke in bars here), and in Europe, there would really be no problem. A bar equipped with a good air purification system is probably healthier than breathing city smog.
Cat, New Orleans, USA

The ban is nice when I'm getting coffee in a coffee shop, but it destroys what little night life Minnesota has.
Nick, Minneapolis, Mn

Bars in New Zealand allow customers to drink AND smoke on a smoking deck or porch outside (clearly sectioned off as a part of the bar). The ban has not really affected bar attendance at all.

However, just after the ban took effect, one smoker decided to install a private "club," allowing smoking, in his garage. He was fined with serving alcohol without a license.
Mel, Christchurch, New Zealand

Ontario has been one of the first provinces to implement a complete smoking ban a few years back. Smokers are not even allowed to light up on roof covered patios (strangely enough, umbrella covered patios are exempt). In principle I am not against the ban, but it has had an effect on the entertainment industry. I've spoken to many restaurant owners and staff, the general opinion is that fewer people go to restaurants and bars, and when they do, they consume and tip less. I understand that this is just anecdotal evidence, but interestingly statistical evidence to the contrary is very difficult to find.
Cosmin, Toronto, Canada

In Los Angeles they are banning people from having fires in their fireplaces during certain nights in the winter because of the excessive green house gasses they produce. One can only imagine how long it will take before all smoking is banned because of its effects on the greenhouse effect!
Michael, Los Angeles, California, USA

Call them feel good socialist control freaks, but when I go to the pub, why should I have to suck in someone elses dirty cigarette smoke? You smoke, not me. Don't be a baby, go out in the cold to enjoy your right to smoke.
Mike, London, Uk

Maybe implement a modern day speakeasy where all can get together for a drink and a smoke? Go underground. It was done once and I hope the american people still have the balls to stand up for what they believe in. Our rights are taken away one piece at a time, never all at once. Be aware!
lisa, hayden usa

I miss my clothes not smelling from smoke when I wake up on a Sunday morning after a good Saturday night's lash-up. I miss my lungs feeling this good on a day-to-day basis. I miss my friends who dont go to the pub anymore because they can't involuntarily kill people by smoking in the pub anymore. Oh, I could go on.....
Rory Byrne, Dublin

People try to get around the smoking ban because it's extremely cold in Minnesota -- just like it is here in Chicago. I still think the bars should've been able to decide whether to allow smoking, and just post signs outside that say whether it's allowed or not. That way no one that doesn't want to be around smoke has to be. They can simply choose to go elsewhere.
Alex, Chicago, USA

A seedy bar in my town got around the state's smoking ban by declaring itself a cigar bar. The state tried to shut it down, but the bar fought the state in court and won.
Chris, Durango, Colorado, USA

I think it is time for the government to step out of our personal lives. It should be up to the owner of the bar/restaurant/or whatever to decided if it is a smoking place or not. They are the ones who pay the bills on the place, not the government.
Jack Stefani, Indianapolis,USA

Good on the bar owners and patrons! The new trend of banning smoking in 'public' places (private business) is inappropriate. Smoking is unhealthy but instead of taking away property rights of the business owners we should consider banning cigarettes.
Jess, Wisconsin, USA

Lumpini Park has a smoking ban, despite the traffic around the park which makes it one of the most polluted areas in Bangkok. I hate these facists that believe they can ban consensual smoking. It tempts me to take up cigarettes again just to blow smoke in their faces.
Andy Canfield, Roiet, Thailand

Ireland was the first place to introduce workplace smoking ban and it has worked brilliantly. Pubs are have a better environment, food in restaurants tastes better and people in general, will eventually reap the benefits of the policy through health effects. There will always be resistance to such a move, but there was also resistance to the abolition of slavery.
Ian Breslin, Dublin, Ireland

Our state imposed a smoking ban in bars that serve food after a ballot resolution in November 2006.Some taverns are trying to get around it by serving food in polystyrene containers with plastic cutlery!

I think what they are trying to do is say that the customer has simply bought "take out" food that they have chosen to eat at the bar!!! I'd love to meet the lawyer who first dreamed that one up
Chris Bell, Las Vegas, USA

At a pub near me they put in a miniature hotel room in the bar which could be used for smoking.
DH, Reading, UK

I've come across bars that quietly don't observe whether their customers are smoking. I've seen them cut holes in the wall that customers can smoke through etc. In all honesty, smoking is bad and smokers are not only killing themselves - they're killing everybody else too. I hope the ban takes proper effect as soon as possible.
George Cowley, Columbia, USA

Minnesota is the state where absolutely NOTHING is allowed. It is filled with feel-good, socialist control freaks. They spend their days inventing methods to impose their will on the public.
Tom, Minnesota, USA

Print Sponsor

'Robbed' of the right to smoke
27 Feb 08 |  Magazine
Smoking curbs: The global picture
01 Jul 09 |  World

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific