Letters Richard Doll’s legacy

Failure of the broadcaster’s duty of care

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8552 (Published 21 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8552
  1. Catherine M Free, consultant in respiratory medicine1,
  2. Nicholas S Hopkinson, senior lecturer and honorary consultant chest physician2
  1. 1Glenfield Hospital, Leicester LE3 9QP, UK
  2. 2NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit at Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College, London, UK
  1. catherine.free{at}uhl-tr.nhs.uk

The ITV show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! has recently been back on UK television. Celebrity contestants live a basic existence in the Australian jungle, deprived of comforts and given only meagre food rations. One thing that is not limited, however, is the supply of cigarettes. ITV repeatedly broadcasts images of celebrities smoking, conveying the message that it is reasonable to ask someone to live without food, but that asking them to abstain from smoking is too much.

Smoking is the primary cause of preventable illness and premature death, accounting for about 81 400 deaths in England annually. All tobacco advertising and sponsorship on television has been banned in the European Union since 1991,1 and recent government legislation has rightly focused on de-normalising smoking. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that children’s attitudes to smoking are influenced by depictions of smoking on screen.2 The broadcasting code is clear that smoking must not be condoned, encouraged, or glamorised in programmes likely to be seen by children and young people.3

I’m a Celebrity was watched by 10.25 million people, 956 000 of whom were aged 4-15 years.4 Richard Doll’s legacy has been clear evidence of the harmful effects of smoking.5 This show provided a free nightly advert for the tobacco industry to an impressionable audience and represents a failure of the broadcaster’s duty of care to the viewing public, which must not be repeated.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8552


  • Competing interests: None declared.