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No smoking, even in plays

New York, Jan. 29: Hand me a cigarette... lover,” Martha says to her conquest Nick in the second act of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf' The stage directions then read: “He lights it for her. As he does, she slips her hand between his legs.”

This scene cannot take place as written in Lincoln, Nebraska; Colorado; Scotland; or, starting April 2, in Wales. Smoking bans are so strict in these places that actors cannot legally light even herbal cigarettes onstage.

In Colorado three theatre companies — the Curious Theater Company and Paragon Theater, both in Denver, and Theater13 in Boulder — have gone so far as to sue the state, arguing that smoking in the course of a play is a form of free expression. The claim echoes the arguments once made to defend the nudity in the musical Hair against indecency laws.

“It will deny residents in Colorado access to great prior works, and cutting-edge new plays as well,” said Bruce Jones, the lawyer representing the theatres.

In October, a judge ruled against the theatres. The companies are now awaiting an appeal, although they have not decided what they will do if it fails.

Paragon is committed to staging Virginia Woolf in July, though it has not decided whether to follow the anti-smoking law or not.

England’s ban, which begins on July 1, allows actors to smoke only “if the artistic integrity of the performance makes it appropriate for them to smoke”.

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