(Cover) – EN Fitness & Wellbeing – Cigarette use in popular television shows and movies may be encouraging young viewers to take up smoking.

Representatives from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies have warned that children today are exposed to significant amounts of on-screen smoking in the programmes and films they choose to watch.

The organisations outlined a rise in the number of Oscar-nominated films that included a character that smoked, which has risen from 60 per cent to 86 per cent in the last four years. Another example cited was British reality show Love Island, which has proved to be extremely popular with teens, as researchers estimate that cigarettes were seen on programme approximately every five minutes in last year’s series (17), while the Lucky Strike brand appeared 16 times throughout the episodes.

Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of ASH, insisted that television regulators “need to take the necessary steps to warn parents of the risks and protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco imagery”.

She also added that while Winston Churchill, who was the subject of Joe Wright’s Oscar-winning movie Darkest Hour, was a famous smoker, other films such as Lady Bird and Best Picture winner The Shape of Water featured fictional characters that were made smokers at the discretion of the filmmakers.

Pro-smokers group Forest claims there is “no significant evidence that smoking on TV or film encourages teenagers to smoke” and accused ASH of mounting “an attack on artistic freedom”. However George Butterworth, a senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK, stated: “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.”

The charity also shared that between 2014 and 2016, about 127,000 children a year started smoking for the first time, with over 60 per cent going on to become regular smokers.

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