Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Setting the Stage for Smoking

By Shawn Healy
Last month I took in a Friday performance of the Tony award winning musical, Jersey Boys (I highly recommend it) at the LaSalle Bank Theater in Chicago. A one point during the performance, one of the actors lit up a cigarette and produced a plume of smoke, an illegal act in these parts in public venues. I did a double-take as we Chicagoans have begun to grow accustomed to smoke-free bars and restaurants, with nicotine-addicted patrons left to brave this miserable winter weather while the rest of us enjoy the warm comfort of our local watering holes. Must have been one of those props designed for the stage, a phony filter emitting bursts of powder. Or maybe, just maybe, it was a brave actor taking artistic license with our state law.

It turns out that our neighbors to the north, Minnesota, went even further, taking the theater to the bar room, state smoking ban be damned. An exception to the law in the Land of 10,000 Lakes allows smoking for theatrical performances, so some select establishments have decided to make their bartending staff the central cast, with customers making cameos at nightly performances, and smokers playing their former selves in the days when tobacco ruled taverns. The state health department contends that patrons are indeed breaking the law, and threaten to dish out fines of up to $10,000.

Nothing against Minnesotans, but I was a little bothered by the fact that Prairie State residents didn't think of our own creative interpretation of the new state law. Unfortunately, our statute doesn't have a theatrical exception, but it does allow for smoking in most private residences, some nursing home and hotel rooms, and at tobacco shops. One Chicago entrepreneur went to far as to close his taco house last year and convert it into a tobacco lounge, and I anticipate similar enterprises to emerge and meet the demands of smokers. You see, whatever your position on public smoking bans, this is the marketplace at work.

When private behavior is altered by public rules there is what my old tax accounting professor called "excess burden." Smoking bans now circle the country, from the California to the New York Island. Instead of pointing to a few college towns with bans, we now stare in amazement when puffy plumes remain as much of a bar staple as beer. Some in the Badger State, for instance, worry that it will soon become the "Ashtray of the Midwest" with bans in adjacent Minnesota and Illinois. Local ordinances have had similar effects, driving customers across city limits to puff at pubs.

When smoking was banned in pubs in Dublin, we knew it could happen anywhere. Many Midwesterners will celebrate St. Patrick's Day this weekend in local watering holes as purified as their Irish peers. Along with shamrock beads, plastic leprechaun hats and green beer, however, expect winter-weary revelers to search for a four-leaf clover in the law. Rest assured that Chicago tobacco shops with be filled to capacity, and yes, there will be no shortage of off-Broadway talent in the Land of Lakes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cigarettes in Jersey Boys are clove, and considering the show ran for over a year in one of the most smoking-intolerant cities in the US (San Francisco), I think they probably know what they're doing in regards to the law...

5:45 PM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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