Experts warn reality TV encourages young people to drink and smoke

A study by Nottingham University analysed how often alcohol and tobacco featured in five popular reality shows

Love Island ©ITV

Reality TV shows such as Love Island may be encouraging children and young adults to engage in smoking or underage drinking, a new study has found.

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The study observed how references or use of alcohol and tobacco was more prevalent in reality shows than other primetime programmes, after observing 112 episodes from five popular reality shows – Love Island, The Only Way is Essex, Geordie Shore, Made in Chelsea and Celebrity Big Brother – between January and August 2018.

Alcohol appeared in all 112 episodes observed, with Love Island having the highest alcohol content.

Elsewhere, tobacco was referenced or seen in 20 of the 112 episodes studied – with the vast majority found in the now-cancelled Celebrity Big Brother.

Toby Green, tobacco policy lead at the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “The new findings show completely unacceptable levels of exposure of these harmful products to our children and young people.”

Love Island Elma Maura ©ITV

After receiving backlash from viewers in 2017 about the amount of smoking in the show, Love Island producers chose to not broadcast any smoking from series four onwards – with Islanders now having their own smoking area which they must use individually.

While it should be noted that all the programmes obey Ofcom regulations as they are broadcast after the 9pm watershed, the study points to access under-18’s may have to catch-up services which makes it easy for them to watch shows that may not be entirely suitable for them.

Researchers at Nottingham University, led by Alexander Barker, concluded, “Reality TV programmes are a major source of exposure to young people in the UK and is likely to be a contributor to smoking and alcohol uptake by young people.

“Reality TV programmes, while usually broadcast after the 9pm watershed, are widely seen and accessed by young people.

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“Tighter scheduling rules, such as restricting the amount of content and branding shown in these programmes, could prevent children and adolescents from being exposed to the tobacco and alcohol content.”