Tobacco control charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Wales is supporting a submission to the UK Government warning that smoking on TV and in films encourages children to take up smoking.

The submission to the Science and Technology Select Committee, sent jointly by ASH England and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol studies (UKCTAS), includes new YouGov results showing 81% of 11 to 15-year-olds and 88% of 16 to 18-year-olds have seen smoking in films. For TV, the stats were 68% for 11 to 15-year-olds and 77% of 16 to 18-year-olds.

Churchill Smoking

One of the worst offenders for not only showing smoking but also branded packs was the young person’s reality TV favourite, Love Island. The show created an estimated 47 million tobacco-related impressions on children aged under 16.

The submission also includes new figures from Cancer Research UK showing that despite declines in smoking prevalence, many young people are still taking up smoking. Between 2014 and 2016 around 127,000 children a year started smoking for the first time in England, equivalent to 17 classrooms of secondary school children a day. In Wales this figure stands at 30 children a day. Research shows that over 60% of those who try smoking go on to become regular smokers.

Suzanne Cass, Chief Executive of ASH Wales, said: “A classroom full of children take up smoking every day here in Wales. Young people are the tobacco industry’s key target since they are the only ones who can replace their lifelong, but dying, customers. Most adult smokers started the habit as a teen, at an age when they were most impressionable.

“Smoking adverts have been banned for many years on TV and at cinemas. It is hard not to question why we are seeing such a rapid rise in the obvious placement of tobacco products, especially among young person-specific programmes.”

The percentage of Oscar-nominated films containing smoking rose dramatically in 2018 – up to 86% from 60% four years ago. The Churchill biopic ‘Darkest Hour’ (rated PG, meaning general viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children) had the highest smoking prevalence of any film.