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. This year, 86% of Oscar-nominated films contained someone smoking, up from 60% four years ago, the groups told the Commons science and technology select committee. Just over half of 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 47m “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 to monitor youth exposure to depictions of tobacco use on screen, to discourage any depictions of tobacco use and require broadcasters or cinemas to run anti-smoking adverts during presentations that feature smoking. Smoking is banned in UK advertising, but not in programmes. Craig Lawson, a former Love Island contestant, told the Sun last year that every islander 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 Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Ash.
Arnott said that while Churchill was a famous cigar smoker and to show him smoking was justified, the majority of the smoking roles on biographical films were taken by fictional characters who the film-makers had chosen to show smoking. 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. 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% of those who try smoking become regular smokers. “The introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products, backed up the complete ban on advertising, leaves smoking in the entertainment media as the main way smoking is promoted to children,” said George Butterworth, a senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK.