Theater Actors Can Still “Light Up” in Win for Artistic Integrity in Chicago

E-cigarette smoke

Theatre actors will be exempt from Chicago City Council Ordinance banning indoor use of electronic cigarettes. actors shall be allowed to use nicotine-free electronic cigarettes within performance spaces.

          -- Amendment of Municipal Code Chapter 4-64 (Substitute Ordinance 2013-6160)

In a victory for Chicago’s world-renowned theatre community, an ordinance passed by the City Council on January 15 banning electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes) in virtually all indoor spaces includes a special exemption for theatre actors engaged in performances in spaces of all types. This special exemption will allow actors and performers to continue to use e-cigarettes on stage if smoking is essential to the script. Smoke that lingers on stage is often an essential element to setting a mood, establishing a time period, and developing a character.

Arts Alliance Illinois, in partnership with the League of Chicago Theatres, collaborated on a letter-writing campaign which aimed to protect artistic freedom and integrity within the theatre community through the creation of this exemption. The Arts Alliance would like to acknowledge the forward-thinking leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Michelle Boone on this great achievement for Chicago theatre.

This policy ensures that Chicago’s well-earned global reputation as one of the finest theatre cities in the world will remain intact and that Chicago’s theatre community will continue to live on the cutting edge of culture.

In response to the Chicago Clean Indoor Air Ordinance of 2008 (also known as Chicago’s Smoking Ban), electronic cigarettes had become a last-resort measure to maintain the authenticity of onstage smoking without exposing Chicago’s theatres to fines and fees. Electronic prop cigarettes, which produce water vapor, maintain a layer of realism to theatrical productions without exposing audiences to actual smoke, nicotine, or smell. The ordinance is set to go into effect on April 29, 2014.

View Arts Alliance Illinois’ letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel PDF

View the ordinance as passed on January 15, 2014 PDF

Chicago Sun-Times coverage of the ordinance can be found here.

For questions or further information about this ordinance, please contact Brian Inman, Arts Alliance Illinois’ Policy & Research Director, at 312.855.3105 x12 or via email at