Children between the ages of 13 to 15 years are most exposed to alcohol and tobacco imagery and lyrics on YouTube , according to new data published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health…

Children between the ages of 13 to 15 years are most exposed to alcohol and tobacco imagery and lyrics on YouTube , according to new data published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

A large number of music videos contains extensive alcohol and tobacco content, often depicted with positive connotations. These videos tend to be most popular with younger audiences, say the researchers. However, regulators have largely been ignoring this issue.

Music videos for Beyonce’s Drunk in Love and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines are saturated with depictions of alcohol use and smoking, making them a health hazard for young people, public health experts say.

Researchers at the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies of the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham used the results of two nationally representative online surveys of British adults and teens to calculate viewing figures for the 32 most popular music videos of top 40 chart songs in the UK during the 12 weeks of 3 November 2013 to 19 January 2014.

In total, 2068 adolescents aged between 11 and 18 years of age, and 2232 adults from the age of 19 and onwards completed the surveys. The results suggest that the average percentage of viewing across the 32 music videos was 22% for teens and 6% for adults.

Based on population census data, the researchers calculated that these delivered a total of 1006 million impressions of alcohol and 203 million of tobacco to the British population during the period between release of the video and the point of the survey.

Most of this content was delivered to 25-34 year olds, but levels of individual exposure were almost four times higher among teens, the figures indicated.

Children aged 13 to 15 received an average of 11.48 tobacco impressions, while those aged 16 to 18 received an average of 10.5. This compares with 2.85 for adults. Furthermore, exposure was around 65% higher among girls, with the highest numbers of tobacco impressions delivered to 13-15 year olds.

The pattern of exposure for alcohol was similar to that of tobacco.

But the overall number of impressions was five times higher.

An estimated 52.11 alcohol impressions were delivered to each teen compared with 14.13 to each adult. Individual exposure levels rocketed to 70.68 among 13-15 year old girls.

“Trumpets” by Jason Derulo, and “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke delivered some of the highest number of tobacco impressions, while ”Timber” by Pitbull,  and “Drunk in Love” by Beyoncé, delivered the most alcohol content.

The researchers write:

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

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.”

Evidence shows that teens exposed to advertising (product placement etc.) of alcohol and tobacco content in films are more likely to take up smoking or use of alcohol, or that youth consumes more alcohol if they had already started.

Alcohol advertising is largely self-regulated by the alcohol industry and the Portman Group who speaks on behalf of the UK alcohol industry. The Advertising Standards Authority also provides guidance on marketing of alcohol products in the UK. The existing self-regulatory guidelines state:

Marketing communications for alcoholic drinks should not be targeted at people under 18 and should not imply, condone or encourage immoderate, irresponsible or anti-social drinking”.

As the new research shows, the alcohol industry is failing their own commitment to protect children and youth.

The researchers explain that

 [Music videos pose a] significant health hazard that requires appropriate regulatory control.

Owing to the obvious health implications for adolescents, we suggest that overly positive portrayals of both alcohol and tobacco in music videos should be included in both the drug misuse and dangerous behaviour presented as safe rating categories.”

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