Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune reports that the producers of the hit jukebox musical “Jersey Boys” have decided to present the show “smoke-free” in Chicago, where the city's anti-smoking ordinance doesn't permit any form of smoking (whether tobacco, or herbal cigarettes) in public spaces, including theatres. Jones' article points to the absurdity of the anti-smoking law designed to “protect” the public, but which essentially requires a revisionist approach to history. The fact is, these people (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) smoked in real life, but in the musical portraying their lives, they're supposed to be non-smokers?
Jones has written on this subject before, and I agree with his position. In his current article, he calls for a specific exception for arts presentations featuring smoking.
As I've previously written here, here and here, I think these laws will fall under constitutional scrutiny. Limits on the actions conducted on-stage by actors are an unacceptable abridgement of the rights of artistic expression.
Where there's a less-restrictive-alternative to a total ban on speech, a governmentally imposed restriction on speech will not stand. Here, I submit that there ARE such alternatives… mandatory use of special high-power ventilation systems, for example… that would acheive the same governmental goal (public protection)
All we need now is someone to stand up for the First Amendment by defying one of these overbroad anti-smoking laws. It's a shame the Jersey Boys producers didn't show more backbone.
Whether you favor smoking bans or not, this is a matter of concern for you. This is the beginning of a slippery slope. What's next? Shall we permit government to ban on-stage portrayals of points-of-view we don't agree with? Could a local government ban the use of weapons on stage, because portrayals of violence lead to the real thing? (Sword fights in Romeo and Juliet, knife/gun fight in West Side Story, etc.). What happens when a law is passed prohibiting negative portrayals of the President? Where will we draw the line?