Booze, cigarettes in music videos a 'health hazard'

Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines video had some of the highest impressions of tobacco use
Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines video had some of the highest impressions of tobacco use

Girls and teenagers between 13 and 15 are exposed to alcohol and tobacco imagery and lyrics in top 40 music videos on millions of occasions on YouTube, new UK research suggests.

'Drunk in Love' by Beyonce, 'Timber' by Pitbull, 'Blurred Lines' by Robin Thicke and 'Trumpets' by Jason Derulo were singled out as being the worst offenders, with the highest number of tobacco and alcohol "impressions".

The study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health today, says while much has been made of regulations about advertising to children in film and television, "relatively little" attention has been paid to digital music videos.

This is despite some music videos containing "extensive alcohol and tobacco content" in which the products are shown in a positive light and tend to be popular with younger audiences.

The study suggests music videos pose a "significant health hazard that requires appropriate regulatory control".

Simon Adamson from the New Zealand National Addiction Centre says it's a growing problem here as well especially because YouTube content is hardly moderated.

"There's certainly quite a bit of risk there. We know that exposure to images of substance use normalises it and increases the probability of people copying the behaviour," he says.

He says it's particularly concerning for vulnerable population especially teenagers.

Mr Adamson says there's no doubt there’s an element of product placement in these videos.

He wants parents to be aware of what their children are being exposed to because there are no real regulations around the content posted on YouTube.  

Using two nationally representative online surveys of British adults and teens, the authors calculated viewing figures of the 32 most-popular music videos of top 40 chart songs in the UK between November 2013 and January 2014.

They then analysed the number of 10-second intervals in each of the videos to estimate the total number of images, depictions and lyrics relating to alcohol and tobacco.

In all, 2068 teens between 11 and 18 took the survey, and 2232 adults aged 19 and over.

The chosen videos were available for an average of seven to 10 months from their date of release.

Based on census data, the researchers believe those videos delivered 1006 million impressions of alcohol and 203 million impressions of tobacco to the British public between their release and the survey.

Most of the images were seen by 25-34 year olds, but levels of individual exposure was almost four times higher among teenagers.

The study also found:

"If these levels of exposure were typical, then in one year, music videos would be expected to deliver over 4 billion impressions of alcohol, and nearly 1 billion of tobacco, in Britain alone," the researchers say.

"Further, the number of impressions has been calculated on the basis of one viewing only; however, many of the videos had been watched multiple times, so this number is likely to be much bigger."

There's already a ban on paid-for placement of branded tobacco products in the UK, while alcohol promotion is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority, the Portman Group and the industry voluntary code of conduct.

There are also controls during periods when children are likely to be watching, but nothing exists for digital music videos.

The British Board of Film Classification has considered an age rating system for music videos made in the UK, but doesn't cover tobacco and alcohol.

Evidence suggests teens subjected to depictions of alcohol and tobacco in films are more likely to start drinking and smoking.

This has led the researchers to suggest overly positive portrayals of alcohol and tobaccos should also be covered in the rating system.

3 News / RadioLIVE