TV reality in Germany: Smoking yes, Corona no

Spy with my little eye

TV wants to offer us viewers realistic everyday environments. How has this been happening since the Covid year 2020?

6.4.2021 ZDF showed an episode of the crime series Night Shift in its evening program on March 29th. The special thing about it: There was almost no smoking (except in a short scene) AND: Wearing a mask was discussed.

Both are unusual, and not just on ZDF. Masks hardly appear in TV movies. There are no restrictions on everyday life as well, although our lives in peacetime have probably never been so changed by a single cause and although the depiction of this changed reality would be possible in film. But reality seems to be specifically defined on (public) television. No masks, no lockdown – but chain-smoking (main) characters including disposal of butts on the street. An example of this is the TV series episode Laim and the Last Guilty, broadcast on 3Sat on March 30, 2021.

We at Pro Rauchfrei vividly remember various responses that we and our members received to complaints about penetrating smoking scenes in television films. Quote from several answers from the ARD audience editorial team

Tobacco use is usually only shown if it is dramaturgically justified. The television films known for their realistic depictions of the environment may therefore contain scenes in which people smoke. However, these are designed in such a way that they in no way encourage children and young people to imitate them.

Likewise, in fictional works you will find scenes in which drugs or excessive alcohol are consumed, and people behave antisocially or even criminally. However, all such scenes are designed in such a way that they in no way encourage children and young people to imitate them.

Smoking is still part of everyday life in our society, although fortunately there has been a positive, downward trend in this regard in recent years. Even if we editorially absolutely support a restrained portrayal of smoking with a view to health prevention, we are also keen to portray everyday German life realistically and not to restrict the artistic freedom of our directors too much.

In 2019, Pro Rauchfrei wrote to all ARD broadcasting councils and ZDF television councils and supported the protest against too much smoking in the film with screenshots from the respective broadcaster’s productions. A ZDF television councilor replied as follows:

The fact that people continue to be shown smoking certainly has something to do with the fact that the reality of life should/is depicted in the productions in the field of fiction. This also includes the depiction of actions that are hazardous to health.

What do smoking and Corona actually have in common?

  • Both are potentially fatal. Corona claimed a five-digit number of lives last year, and smoking claimed a six-figure number.
  • Both have an impact on people in the area: Corona because of infection, smoking because of the risk of passive smoke
  • Both cost the health system enormous amounts of money, even if those affected do not die from them

What is the difference between smoking and Corona?

  • The motto for Corona was “Health comes before everything else”, but when smoking you often have the feeling that it is the other way round
  • Corona lobbying can actually cost you offices and dignities, but tobacco lobbying cannot
  • Vaccination will ultimately help against Corona; against smoking, only abstinence or at least consideration will help.

Cigarettes too often play a key role in TV productions by public broadcasters. The assurance that such scenes would not encourage children and young people to imitate them is absurd. It also doesn’t matter whether characters who are portrayed positively or negatively smoke. Anyone who promotes smoking is clearly advertising it. Anyone who closes their eyes to this fact does not want to do anything to prevent over 100,000 tobacco deaths per year.