Soaps could be pushed back later into the TV schedules following claims popular TV shows encourage young people to drink.
Health experts believe alcoholic imagery linked with pubs in shows such as Coronation Street and EastEnders influences drinking behaviour – and have recommended scenes involving booze are banned until after the watershed.
Research from The Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies also criticised Corrie’s commercial breaks for containing ads for alcoholic drinks, airing when younger viewers may be watching.
According to figures from Nottingham-based think tank, half of all programmes in the 6pm to 10pm time slots include themes relating to alcohol.
The study involved analysis of 1,140 commercial breaks and 611 TV shows broadcast between those times.
Communities of soap characters have always gathered around the Rovers Return and Queen Vic pubs throughout the runs of Coronation Street and EastEnders respectively. The Woolpack inn has also been a central location for Emmerdale through the years.
The devastating effects of alcoholism have also figured in many leading storylines – playing out most memorably with the struggles of EastEnders’ Phil Mitchell and Emmerdale’s Laurel Thomas in recent times.
But experts believe it is the presence on screen of alcohol rather than a plot’s treatment of it that bears an impact.
Dr Alexander Barker said: “There is strong evidence that viewing alcohol advertising or imagery has an uptake on subsequent alcohol use in young people.
“Our study shows that alcohol imagery, including branding, is regularly broadcast on primetime TV, when children and adolescents are likely to be watching.
“Tighter scheduling rules from the Advertising Standards Agency and Ofcom, such as restricting alcohol advertisements and alcohol imagery in programs, to after the 9 pm watershed, could prevent children and adolescents being exposed to this content.”
It is estimated that the rate of alcohol consumption in those over 15 in the UK is the eighth highest in Europe. Alcohol-related illnesses are believed to cost the NHS over £3.5 billion a year.
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