Writers urged to cut smoking

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Script-writers of British soap operas such as Coronation Street and EastEnders are guilty of sending a pro-smoking message to younger viewers, unlike their Australian rivals on Neighbours and Home and Away, health experts claimed yesterday.

A survey by the Health Education Authority found there are almost three times as many portrayals of smoking in home-grown soaps (14 per cent of programmes) than those produced in Australia (5 per cent).

Dr Guy Cumberbatch, of Aston University, who conducted the research, viewed 304 episodes of leading soap operas to gauge the level and type of smoking, and interviewed 240 11 to 15-year-olds on their attitudes to cigarettes in soaps.

Dr Cumberbatch found that on average one in four characters were perceived as smokers in British soap operas, compared with 1 in 11 in the Antipodean versions.

Certain characters in some programmes, such as Bianca in EastEnders - a rebellious, glamorous teenager - are perceived as smokers even though they have never been seen smoking on screen.

Baroness Cumberlege, health minister, joined leading soap stars to launch the HEA's latest anti-smoking campaign, "Stub Out Smoking in Soaps", yesterday.

The campaign aims to encourage producers to cut on-screen smoking and to develop anti-smoking themes.

Although the level of smoking in soaps is low - of 9,555 characters in current soaps just 23 smoked - Leanne Riley, the HEA's smoking manager, said: "Soap operas have a significant impact on the lives of young people. We have seen their influence when recent story lines have highlighted the dangers of issues such as HIV and Aids.

"Australian soaps have proved that they can tackle smoking issues whilst retaining their popularity. Perhaps we should follow their lead."