Anti-smoking nags need to butt out of Love Island

Love Island is over for another year, but not everyone is mourning the end of the hit reality-TV show. Some, incredibly, are glad to see the back of it – not because of the nudity, swearing and sex, but because the islanders were shown smoking.

In the first week of the series, the state communications regulator, Ofcom, received 46 complaints about smoking. The British Lung Foundation (BLF) criticised the show’s producers for ‘irresponsible broadcasting’, suggesting the islanders be given e-cigarettes to help them stop smoking. ‘Whether they like it or not, these people are role models’, the chief executive of BLF, Dr Penny Woods, told the Sun: ‘The programme makers should be setting an example by helping people to quit.’ A few e-cigarettes did mysteriously appear in the third week of the show, but didn’t stay long – the islanders seemed to prefer the real deal.

More recently, the professional killjoys at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) complained that the islanders’ cigarettes were put in white packages. ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott wanted to know why the ‘glamourous and attractive stars’ hadn’t been given packets with graphic health warnings on them. That it is the standard practice in reality TV to remove all branding – the islanders’ drinks and food also came in white packaging – didn’t wash with Arnott. ‘I assume this is because pictures designed to show that smoking can lead to male impotence or diseased lungs do not fit the “glamorous” framing of the show’, she said.

ASH is now arguing that ITV bosses have breached section 1.10 of Ofcom’s broadcast code, which states that smoking ‘must not be condoned, encouraged or glamorised in programmes likely to be widely seen, heard or accessed by under-18s unless there is editorial justification’. Not content with carping about the levels of smoking on the show, ASH is now calling on Ofcom to launch an investigation into whether a breach of the broadcast code could affect next year’s series.

It’s true that the islanders did enjoy a cigarette or seven in each episode. But wouldn’t you if you were holed up in a villa with a load of strangers for weeks on end? The islanders allegedly only received two alcoholic drinks a night, and seemed only to be able to snack on pitta bread and eggs – they had to get their kicks somewhere. Even the show’s posh prude Camilla Thurlow enjoyed a cigarette break from time to time. ITV bosses defended the depiction of smoking in the show, arguing that ‘the islanders are only shown smoking if this happens at the same time as they are having conversations we believe to be editorially important to the narrative of the show’. The truth is, as everyone knows, all the best drama happens in the smoking area.

What ASH and other anti-smoking charities want to do is pretend that no one smokes. Love Island was screened nightly at 9pm – after the watershed – and is quite obviously a show for adults. These cigarette censors can’t fathom the idea that some adults still smoke – and enjoy it. They despise the idea of ordinary people making decisions for themselves without being prodded and poked by public-health fanatics.

Love Island might be over, but there’s no end in sight to this obsession with smoking.

Ella Whelan is assistant editor at spiked. Follow her on Twitter: @Ella_M_Whelan

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