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UPDATE: 'theater nights' smoking

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Wednesday that "theater nights" being held in bars do not fall within the theatrical production exemption of the state's 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.

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," according to a department of health news release.

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."

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, according to Wednesday's news release.