ASH targets smoking on TV and in films
Sunday, April 15, 2018 at 17:57
Simon Clark

Love Island 'seduces teenagers into smoking' screamed a headline in today's Sunday Times.

Teenagers are being encouraged to smoke by Love Island, the hugely popular ITV reality show, a public health charity has warned.

The series ... was described as "harmful" by Action on Smoking and Health. The charity fears the cult show ... is heavily influencing young people's decision to start smoking.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: "The amount of smoking in films and programmes watched by children, like Love Island, is completely unacceptable.

It's no surprise that our surveys shows children reporting high awareness of smoking in screen and ... the more smoking they see, the more likely they are to start smoking themselves.

If all this sounds familiar it's because it is.

Complaints about the number of Love Island contestants who were seen smoking first appeared during the last series which was broadcast in June 2017:

Nearly every single contestant was seen puffing away on a cigarette at one point during the airing on ITV2 ...

At one point, viewers claimed to spot eight cigarette packets on the table as contestants chatted away.

The fuss – which according to the Sun attracted TWO complaints to Ofcom – was soon forgotten.

Two months ago however research revealed that:

Love Island viewers would have been exposed to millions of images of contestants smoking and of tobacco-related images during the run of the reality show, new research has warned.

The report quantified the amount of tobacco content on the show and found that in 21 episodes, comprising 1,001 minutes of content, tobacco imagery occurred in 204, totalling 20 per cent of the time ...

They measured audiovisual tobacco content, categorised as actual use, implied use including verbal references and the on-screen presence of cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia and clear branding ...

The data was combined with audience viewing figures – the final episode was watched by around 2.6 million people – and population estimates.

The researchers calculated that the 21 episodes delivered 559 million overall tobacco "impressions" to the UK population ...

The episodes delivered 44 million impressions of branded tobacco products, including four million to children, the research found.

These calculations are likely to be an underestimate, as they do not take account of online viewing or the accompanying weekly review of the series, Love Island: Aftersun, the researchers added.

There is a clear link between young people's exposure to on-screen tobacco imagery and starting to smoke, it was emphasised.

Actually, I would dispute that. The research published by the online journal Tobacco Control calculated a number of smoking-related images or 'impressions'. It didn't demonstrate a causal link with children starting to smoke, a claim that is contentious at best.

Sensing an opportunity however ASH has been lobbying the Select Committee on Science and Technology. In a follow-up to the Sunday Times report, ASH today issued a press release that began:

In a strongly worded submission to the Select Committee on Science and Technology ASH and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol studies warn that smoking on TV and in films encourages children to take up smoking. They point out that children in the UK are still exposed to significant amounts of smoking on screen and that it is the amount of smoking that is important, not whether it is glamourised or not.

Recommendations include:

Ofcom and the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) should monitor youth exposure to depictions of tobacco use on screen in the channels they regulate and publish these data in their annual reviews;

Ofcom and the BBFC should revise their guidelines with respect to smoking on screen in entertainment media viewed by under-18s to discourage any depictions of tobacco use [my emphasis]; and require action to mitigate any remaining exposure [my emphasis].

Interestingly there is no reference to Love Island anywhere in the press release. Instead the focus is on 'smoking on TV and in films' in general. It concludes:

ASH and UKCTAS have already shared the evidence with Ofcom and are having very constructive discussions with Ofcom. Ofcom has agreed to review the evidence we have provided it with and undertake its own analysis of the impact of smoking depictions on young people, preparatory to making any decisions about how to proceed. ASH and UKCTAS have written to the BBFC this week with a copy of our submission asking to meet to discuss our recommendations with them.

Truth is, Love Island is just a convenient stalking horse. What ASH and UKCTAS are really trying to do is persuade Ofcom to prohibit any depiction of tobacco use that might be viewed by under-18s, a definition that is pretty far reaching.

It's like saying smoking should be banned anywhere children might be present for fear they will see someone smoking. (That of course is another of their aims.)

Anyway, the Guardian was quick to follow up the Sunday Times article, reporting: Love Island and other shows 'encourage teenagers to smoke'.

Unlike the ST, the Guardian gave Forest the chance to comment, even if our response was bookended in typical Guardian style:

Contestants’ cigarette habits in the reality TV show Love Island and Winston Churchill’s cigars in the Oscar-winning film Darkest Hour inspire children to take up smoking, anti-tobacco campaigners have warned MPs.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies said children in the UK are still 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 ...

The pro-smokers’ group Forest said ASH was mounting “an attack on artistic freedom”, adding that there is “no significant evidence that smoking on TV or film encourages teenagers to smoke”.

ASH responded that multiple academic studies had proved causality and said Forest was funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association.

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

See what they did there? Clever.

I also like the fact that having invited our response to ASH's press release (a copy of which was emailed to me), the reporter obviously spoke to ASH again so they could debunk our reply!

Anyway, here's the full response that we subsequently issued to our other media contacts:

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “Films and television should reflect the world as it was and is, not as prohibitionists would like it to be.

“Directors must be allowed to portray characters as they see fit, not according to regulations imposed on them by government and unelected NGOs.

“Many Oscar-listed films that contain smoking, like ‘Darkest Hour’, are set in a period of history when a large majority of adults smoked. Even today one in six adults smoke.

“Prohibiting or excessively restricting the depiction of smoking would be a gross attack on artistic freedom and a worrying attempt to rewrite history.”

He added: “It’s ludicrous to suggest there is a causal link between smoking on screen and children taking up smoking.

“To put this in perspective, smoking rates among young people in the UK are at their lowest ever level.

“The anti-smoking industry is manufacturing a sense of alarm that is out of all proportion to reality.”

See Smoking on screen: Forest condemns "attack on artistic freedom".

The Mail, using Press Association copy, has quoted Forest here, 'Love Island and other shows encourage young people to smoke, say campaigners'.

PS. For the record, and contrary to what ASH told the Guardian, Forest is not funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association.

Forest receives donations from BAT, JTI and Imperial Brands but not the TMA. A small distinction but an important one.

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