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Audiences 'at risk' from on-stage smoking

Fri 16th March, 2012

Health expert "shocked" to witness members of the National Theatre cast smoking in character.

Professor James D Sargent of the Dartmouth Medical School in the US has just published a big study of the effects of the ban on smoking in public places in Germany in the journal Clinical Research in Cardiology.

He and his colleagues found that heart attacks fell there by 8% after the ban came into place.

Prof Sargent has also studied Britain, and on his last visit went to a production of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors at what is arguably Britain's premier theatre.

During the interval, some actors remain on stage as the set is changed and smoke as part of their performance as low-life characters lounging outside sex-shops and bars as the production demands.

But Prof Sargent does not accept that it was necessary for the drama: "It puts the audience at risk", he told the BBC.

"At the end of the interval, you could see the smoke in the air and clearly smell it."

He is adamant that this is dangerous.

There is no scientific evidence, he said, that the air has to be thick with smoke for it to be harmful, adding that there is an increased risk, he said, with relatively small amounts.

The National Theatre said the actors smoked tobacco on stage because of the dramatic needs of the production.

But she would not comment on whether there was a health risk to the audience or to the cast, or whether the risk had been assessed.

Source: BBC News (17 March 2012)

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