Cigarette habits on shows, film have impact on kids, says research

LONDON • The smoke alarm has been triggered in Britain, where anti-tobacco campaigners say contestants' cigarette habits in reality TV show Love Island and Winston Churchill's cigars in Oscar-winning film Darkest Hour inspire children to take up smoking.

Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies said children in Britain are exposed to significant amounts of on-screen smoking.

They cited a rise in smoking in Oscar-nominated films and research that showed cigarettes appeared in Love Island every five minutes on average, with the Lucky Strike brand appearing 16 times.

This year, 86 per cent of Oscar-nominated films contained someone smoking, up from 60 per cent four years ago, the groups told Members of Parliament in the House of Commons science and technology select committee.

Just over half the nominated actors depicted smokers, the highest level in several years, research found.

Given Love Island's popularity with young people, last summer's series left "gross impressions" of smoking on children under 16, the campaigners told the MPs in a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the impact of social media and screen use on young people's health.

The campaigners want the communications regulator Ofcom and the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to monitor youth exposure to portrayals of tobacco use on screen, discourage any depictions of tobacco use and require broadcasters or cinemas to run anti-smoking advertisements during presentations that feature smoking.

Smoking is banned in British advertising, but not in programmes.

Craig Lawson, a dumped Love Island contestant, told The Sun newspaper last year that every participant was given at least 20 cigarettes a day by producers, if they wanted them.

"Ofcom and the BBFC, which regulate these sectors, need to take the necessary steps to warn parents of the risks and protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco imagery," said Ms Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash.

She added that while showing Churchill smoking was justified because he was a famous cigar smoker, the majority of the smoking roles in biographical films were taken by fictional characters.

However, pro-smokers' group Forest said Ash was mounting "an attack on artistic freedom" and claimed there was "no significant evidence that smoking on television or film encourages teenagers to smoke".

Ash responded that multiple academic studies had proven causality and noted that Forest is funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association.

Forest is supported by companies including British American Tobacco, which makes Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes.

The submission to MPs includes figures from Cancer Research UK, showing that, between 2014 and 2016, about 127,000 children a year started smoking for the first time.

That research shows more than 60 per cent of those who try smoking become regular smokers.

"The introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products, backed up by the complete ban on advertising, leaves smoking in the entertainment media as the main way smoking is promoted to children," said Mr George Butterworth, a senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2018, with the headline 'Cigarette habits on shows, film have impact on kids, says research'. Print Edition | Subscribe