Jazmin Kopotsha | Culture Writer | Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Is Smoking On Screen More Taboo Than Sex Now?

Is Smoking On Screen More Taboo Than Sex Now?

The Debrief: There have been more complaints to Ofcom about Love Island's portrayal of smoking than sex, and that says a lot

Smoking is bad for you. We know this very well by now. Don’t do it, it’s all sorts of dangerous and never mind what the kids in the movies are doing, cigarettes are definitely not cool, alright? Alright. But just as much as we’ve all had the ‘do not smoke’ mantra drilled into us by parents, teachers and those particularly graphic new warning labels, the sight of someone smoking isn’t remotely unfamiliar or shocking for that matter. 

Remember back in the early noughties when smoking inside was just a thing? Going to the pub with the fam on a Sunday afternoon often involved doing the breast stroke through a heavy grey fog of carbon monoxide just to get to the bar. But even in the ten years that have passed since the smoking ban in England came into effect, I wouldn’t go so far to say that anyone would double take at the sight of a cigarette being puffed upon.  

But it seems that Love Island has gone and flip reversed (yes, that was a Blazin’ Squad reference. Shout out to Marcel) our expectations one more time because according to Ofcom, of the 46 complaints about the show that have been received, most of them are about all of those scenes where you can see the contestants smoking. That’s right, smoking is more complained about than the broadcasting of unsubtle shagging beneath the sheets in a shared bedroom. And if the shitty response to ex-Miss Great Britain getting some last year is anything to go by, I’m a little bit surprised.

Twenty-four of the grievances were objections to how smoking is portrayed on the show, while fifteen of the complaints were about the promotion of ‘sexual material and promiscuity’, reports the BBC. The rest of the complaints were apparently about violence (that time Kem threw a pillow at Amber ‘aggressively’), the use of a racial slur and bad language. All the sorts of things you’d expect to be raised on a show like Love Island I guess, but the fact that smoking has become the number one bugbear of the British public says a whole lot about where we’re at in society. 

Now, I’m not trying to defend smoking. We’ve established the nicotine bad, clean lungs good thing. But smoking is as much of a bad habit as it is a means to pass the time. A very bad habit that you often abuse when you’ve got fuck all else to do and happen to be sat around in the sun all day with what we can only imagine being an endless supply of free cigs from the TV powers that be. Unlike sex, though, we’re used to seeing people smoking publically, which is where I think most of the surprise at the number of complaints must come from. And for all of you smokers in denial, yes, social smoking is very much a thing too and that certainly will play a part in a game show based on 'making connections' with people.

But then, of course, there’s the danger that comes with a group of young, attractive contestants on a reality TV show that has the attention of more than two million UK viewers, incidentally showing the act of smoking as the way to respond to being stressed about something, or falling out with one of the boys who made a pass for the girl you like, for example. Or by extent presenting smoking as an equally accepted (and expected) behaviour of these insanely beautiful scantily clad people who have made it onto the telly, as their grooming habits are. Especially when the entire villa bar Montana and Alex are smokers. 

It would be a bit much to say that the tally of complaints means that society is suddenly okay with sex on screen though, let's not forget those fifteen complaints. But the fact that smoking has overtaken sex as the key cause for concern of those of the British public who opt to write into Ofcom, does lend itself to the idea that we're all way more concerned with the image of health and wellbeing than we were in the past. The romps and frolics of twenty-somethings as captured by night vision camera isn't nearly as disruptive as the seemingly consistent stream of cigarettes that balance on their perfectly lined lips is, it seems. 

At the moment we can't move for the promotion of healthier lifestyles. People are more concerned with how to go gluten- or lactose-free than nicotine-free because smoking hasn't been part of the narrative for a long time now. For right or wrong, we're constantly told that eating, sleeping and living clean is the way. So seeing a group of slim, toned and seemingly physically fit people passing the time away with a fag in hand definitely goes against the grain of the doctrine that we've all been consumed by on Instagram over recent years.  

Or maybe it's more a matter of it taking way longer for the couples to engage in sessions unsubtle under-the-sheets-in-a-shared-bedroom activity than it has in the previous series and they've all been spending their time smoking to distract from serious cases of blue balls. Who knows. Generally, smoking is still bad for you, sex in any capacity is still great as long as everyone involved is happy and consenting, and we'll never not be fascinated by the habits of those Love Island contestants.

Like this? You might also be interested in…

Ask An Adult: Is Socially Smoking Really That Bad For You?

Olivia On Love Island Is Right: The ‘Ick Factor’ Is Real

On Why It Was Heartbreakingly Important To Hear About Love Island Gabby’s Insecurities

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Tags: TV We\'re Unashamedly Watching