Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Speak Out on Bill 45 and the Safe Use of Vapour Devices in Performing Arts

by Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Let me start with an important point: I think Bill 45, the Making Healthier Choices Act, is good law.  Regulating e-smoking (including the use of electronic cigarettes, cigars, and pipes) is necessary and in the public interest.  But I also believe it’s important that we have regulations that permit their safe use in the performing arts.

Many theatres use e-cigars, pipes and cigarettes on stage when required to represent smoking. The use of prop vapour devices is healthier and safer for artists and audiences than herbal alternatives. Essentially they are mini-smoke machines that are compliant with government regulations.  As part of our "To Act In Safety" initiative, I serve on the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s Advisory Committee for Health and Safety in Live Performance, and we develop health and safety guidelines, including a guideline for the safe use of fog, smoke, and vapour in the performing arts.

Smoking on stage was a hot topic at our recent Theatre Ontario Festival in Oshawa.  Three of the plays posed interesting challenges for the theatre companies.

From the poker scene in Oshawa Little Theatre's The Odd Couple.
James Burrell, Steve Maddiss, Tom Lynch.
In Oshawa Little Theatre’s presentation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, the curtains opened to a haze of cigar smoke around the poker players.  It immediately conveyed place, time, relationship, and what happened before the curtain opened.  It also generated a big laugh, always a good start for a comedy.  (Updated: I wasn't able to confirm it for press time, but Oshawa Little Theatre did use e-cigars for the scene.)

In the play Agnes of God, by John Pielmeier, one character smokes compulsively—it’s a defining aspect of the character.  Gore Bay Theatre recognized that many people are sensitive to herbal cigarettes, and chose to use powder cigarettes instead.

For Peterborough Theatre Guild’s production of Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday, the company decided to drop the smoking entirely.  Without any references in the dialogue, and not communicating anything unique about the characters, it was seen as unnecessary for the production.

Three shows, three challenges, three valid decisions—all possible because the artists had choices in their approaches.  Smoking can convey information about characters and setting, and sometimes it is an essential element of the artist’s vision.  other times, it’s simply a hindrance.  That freedom to make the appropriate artistic choice, under proper regulations, is what we’re advocating.

As we strive to ensure good regulations are in place to deal with the problems of smoking, we can also ensure regulations for a safe and healthy environment for artists and audiences with the proper regulations for tools like e-cigarettes.

We have reached out to the Ministry asking them to make an exemption for the performing arts. This ask has been supported by IATSE-58, CAEA, PACT, and TAPA. The Government is interested and have specifically asked to hear comments from the industry – That’s You!

Before August 14, we are asking for your help.  Learn how you can Speak Out on Bill 45 and the Safe Use of Vapour Devices in Performing Arts


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