Cllr Steve Bedser, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing and chair of the Birmingham Tobacco Control Alliance, calls for a smoke-free I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
I had cause to do something I've never done before this week, when I wrote to TV regulator Ofcom to complain about the prevalence of smoking in ITV's hugely popular I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
This is not something I make a habit of doing. I'm not a natural 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' but after watching the programme last Saturday night (17 November 2012) I felt compelled to send a letter containing the following:
During this episode a contestant, Helen Flanagan, was filmed repeatedly as she smoked. Whilst I understand that the episode was broadcast after the 'watershed' I am of the strong view that the frequency of this image was such that it condoned, encouraged and glamorized smoking, especially by young girls. There was no editorial justification for including these particular scenes.
Ratings which are freely available show that children aged 4-15 make up 10% of the audience for this programme. Furthermore, it can be watched at any time before the watershed via the internet or “playback” on a variety of devices which are widely available. Thus this programme broke your code which aims to protect young people under 18 and helps to glamorize smoking amongst the young.
Now I must make it clear that this is not a personal attack on Helen Flanagan. She's a grown woman who has the right to smoke should she choose to. But surely when they edit the highlights, the production team can put together an entertaining programme without showing the contestants constantly puffing away on cigarettes.
In my capacity as chair of the Birmingham Tobacco Control Alliance, it's my duty to speak out about something that continues to be a significant public health issue across Birmingham. Let's not sugar-coat this, cigarettes kill and I want to protect our young people from taking up this deadly habit.
Whether they like it or not, celebrities do have a duty to act as role models for impressionable young people and many teenagers who religiously watch I'm a Celebrity will look up to Helen and her fellow contestants.
- I was a smoker myself for many years and I know only too well the vice-like grip nicotine can have on people. But I’ve yet to meet a smoker who actively wants to encourage young people to take up this deadly habit.
- The most up-to-date figures we have for Birmingham show smoking prevalence at 26% amongst 16-19 year olds. This is higher than the national average and the number of teenagers starting to smoke remains a concern.
- Smoking as a teenager is likely to lead to a lifelong habit. Around 80% of adults smokers report that they started smoking before the age of 18.
- Nationally - 6% of 11-15 year olds smoke (Source: NHS Information Centre, by the National Centre for Social Research and the National Foundation for Educational Research, Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England, 2006 to 2008)
There have been two strands of work nationally to tackle the uptake of smoking among young people. The first is to reduce young people's access to tobacco and the second is to 'deglamourise' and 'denormalise' smoking. Smoking initiation is associated with a range of risk factors, including exposure to tobacco marketing and depictions of smoking in films, television and other media.
So I'm not being a killjoy or the 'smoking police', I'm simply asking the producers of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here to think twice before routinely including footage of celebrities smoking in a programme that is watched by a significant number of young people in Birmingham and across the UK.