A Content Analysis of Tobacco and Alcohol Audio-Visual Content in a Sample of UK Reality TV Programmes
Exposure to tobacco and alcohol content in audio-visual media is a risk factor for smoking and alcohol use in young people. This study reports an analysis of tobacco and alcohol content, and estimates of population exposure to this content, in a sample of reality television programmes broadcast in the UK.
The study used 1-minute interval coding to quantify tobacco and alcohol content in all episodes of five reality TV programmes aired between January and August 2018 (Celebrity Big Brother; Made in Chelsea; The Only Way is Essex; Geordie Shore and Love Island), and estimated population exposure using viewing data and UK population estimates.
The study coded 5219 intervals from 112 episodes. Tobacco content appeared in 110 (2%) intervals in 20 (18%) episodes, and alcohol in 2212 (42%) intervals and in all episodes. The programmes delivered approximately 214 million tobacco gross impressions to the UK population, including 47.37 million to children; and for alcohol, 4.9 billion and 580 million respectively.
Tobacco, and especially alcohol, content is common in reality TV. The popularity of these programmes with young people, and consequent exposure to tobacco and alcohol imagery, represents a potentially major driver of smoking and alcohol consumption.
Implications of the study
The Office of Communications (Ofcom) restricts depictions of tobacco or alcohol use in programmes shown before the 9pm watershed.
As reality TV programmes are shown after this time they’re arguably not meant for children.
But many young people under 18 will watch programmes shown after 9pm, and the availability of TV “catch-up” makes it even easier for young people to access.
The study also shows a couple of interesting findings,
- Smoking tends to be viewed as less socially acceptable today, more rarely depicted on TV and brands never displayed.
- Alcohol use, still appears to be seen as acceptable to depict as the social norm for young adults.