No reason to smoke on stage

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JOHN Byrne and his colleagues denounce Scotland’s prohibition on smoking on stage in theatres (Scotland on Sunday, 17 March) and seek to overturn the protection it guarantees to both audiences and theatre staff. But surely artistic integrity stems from the performance of the artist rather than from the props they hold?

The ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces is based on firm evidence that second-hand tobacco smoke is a health hazard, allied to the principle that while smokers may make their own health choices they should not allow their smoke to impact on others. It is probably the most successful and popular public health legislation in many years. Support for the policy has stabilised 
at over 80 per cent of adults in Scotland – something few political actions achieve.

While we acknowledge the desire to respect artistic integrity, electronic cigarettes are now used to compete with 
real cigarettes in smoke-ring battles (look it up on YouTube). It is surely not beyond the ability of professional artists to work with electronic cigarettes or other props. Creative performances regularly use props, special effects and acting techniques to suggest harmful activities (such as stabbing, shooting or injecting illegal drugs) without requiring actors to actually perform these activities. Theatre production companies have the same responsibilities to their workers and to bystanders as any other industry, and no stage manager, stagehand or even actor or director should tolerate a theatre owner flouting other aspects of health and safety law on stage or backstage.

Tom Bell, Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland; Sheila Duffy, ASH Scotland; Ben McKendrick, British Heart Foundation Scotland; Paula Chadwick, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation; Dr James Cant, British Lung Foundation Scotland and Northern Ireland