Wales smoking ban forced Casualty story change says BBC

TV drama Casualty is produced by BBC Wales in Cardiff

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A storyline in TV drama Casualty warning about the dangers of smoking had to be dropped because of Wales' anti-smoking laws, says the BBC.

BBC Wales gave evidence in the Welsh assembly as it backed a law amendment to allow smoking to be filmed on set.

Smoking in enclosed spaces was banned across the UK in 2007 but in England there is exemption which permits smoking for drama recordings.

AMs will vote on the issue in the spring.

The Welsh government wants to exempt film productions from the ban, in line with England's.

But anti-smoking groups are bitterly opposed and say it would prompt calls from other industries to be exempt.

Clare Hudson, head of BBC Cymru Wales Productions, said there were plans for Casualty to include a "cautionary moral tale" about a smoker causing a fire in a hotel.

But AMs were told the legislation "made filming the scenes too difficult to contemplate within the production budget and schedule, and a strong storyline which would have highlighted one of the hazards of smoking had to be changed to something else".

Start Quote

There is no evidence at all that production companies have chosen England over Wales to film a shoot because we don't offer smoking”

End Quote Felicity Waters Ash

The Welsh film industry has warned it could lose major drama productions to England because it is illegal for actors to smoke on film sets in Wales.

Keeping the ban could cost millions of pounds and damage the industry, Welsh assembly members were told.

AMs took evidence on whether Wales should also have an opt-out to the smoking ban for film and television productions.

However, the chair of an assembly committee said the industry's call for film sets to be exempt from the smoking ban was "fundamentally morally repugnant".

Anti-smoking group Ash said the law was designed to protect workers and should remain in force on public health grounds.

Ash press and campaigns managers Felicity Waters said: "This, we would argue, is a matter of convenience for the television industry - and health legislation should not be amended on commercial grounds.

"What industry is going to come next?"

Her stance was backed by the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, who said there was no safe level of smoke and that the ban on smoking indoors should be absolute.

'Can-do place'

However, BBC Wales has warned it may have to film prestigious dramas in England unless the ban is relaxed.

Ms Hudson said: "What we are concerned about is that if we want the sky to be the limit for production in Wales, we need to be perceived as, and actually be, a can-do place where all things are possible in drama.

Start Quote

We may have a situation where our drama slate within Wales is potentially damaged”

End Quote Clare Hudson BBC Wales

"An independent company can go and make a show anywhere - with new tax breaks coming in there will be more American companies who make decisions utterly ruthlessly.

"We may have a situation where our drama slate within Wales is potentially damaged by people making decisions on the basis of 'oh, they won't let us smoke, that's a key part of this drama, let's do it somewhere else'".

She added that losing out on a drama production in Wales could potentially cost between £500,000 and £10m-12m to the economy.

Both sides disputed the cost to producers of using computer generated imagery (CGI) in post-production to show smoking without actors having to smoke on set.

Special effects

Independent producers association Pact said a 10 second close-up shot using CGI could cost up to £30,000, but Mrs Waters said Ash had obtained a quote from a special effects company of £250 a day for CGI work.

Although there may be occasions where smoking needs to be portrayed in period dramas, it could be done in Wales and "certainly nowhere near the cost of going to Bristol to film scenes", she said.

"What we are concerned about is that the creative industries are saying that allowing smoking in Wales is going to create jobs," she said.

Start Quote

You are suggesting to us that something bad happens somewhere else, and because it's allowed to happen somewhere else, we should allow it to happen in Wales”

End Quote Mark Drakeford AM Chair, health committee

"That is simply not true. There is no evidence at all that production companies have chosen England over Wales to film a shoot because we don't offer smoking."

Proposals from the Welsh government to exempt film sets have divided AMs.

As a result, ministers have asked a joint sub-committee of the assembly's enterprise and health committees to hear arguments.

The committee took evidence 10 years to the day after the assembly voted in favour of a motion calling for a ban on smoking in public buildings.

There will be a vote in the Senedd later this year on whether the exemption should be brought in.

The Labour chair of the health committee, Mark Drakeford, said he was unconvinced by the argument that there should be an exemption in Wales because one existed in England.

"The argument you use, in comparing Wales with Bristol, for example, is a fundamentally morally repugnant argument," he said.

"You are suggesting to us that something bad happens somewhere else, and because it's allowed to happen somewhere else, we should allow it to happen in Wales."

  • On 24 January 2013 BBC Cymru Wales submitted a correction to its evidence to the committee. The Casualty production team has confirmed they found an alternative way of shooting the relevant scene and no change was made to the plot of the episode in question. BBC Cymru Wales has apologised for the error.

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