Music Videos Should Carry Warnings for Alcohol and Tobacco, Study Suggests

Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines, 2013.

Robin Thicke in the video for Blurred Lines in 2013.

Can YouTube be bad for your health? A new study in Great Britain finds that significant numbers of adolescents are being exposed to tobacco and alcohol content in popular videos from the likes of Jason Derulo and Pitbull. Research from the University of Nottingham (and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health) showed that repeated exposure while watching such videos poses a ”significant health hazard that requires appropriate regulatory control.”

Researchers analyzed 32 popular videos during a 12-week period, and estimated that on average more teenagers (22 percent) were watching them than adults (6 percent). The research then calculated the number of verbal or visual references to alcohol or tobacco in the videos and concluded that they were responsible for over 1 billion impressions of alcohol and 203 million of tobacco.

The research concluded that girls between 13 and 15 were the most exposed to cigarettes and alcohol in the videos. The videos with some of the highest number of tobacco references include “Trumpets” by Jason Derulo, “Love Me Again” by John Newman and “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. Video with the highest impressions of alcohol were “Timber” by Pitbull and “Drunk in Love” by Beyonce.

"It is well established that young people exposed to depictions of tobacco and alcohol content in films are more likely to start smoking or to consume alcohol, but the effect of imagery in other media, including new online media such as YouTube music videos, has received relatively little attention," lead researcher Dr. Jo Cranwell said in the report.

Overtly sexual or violent music videos already carry advisory age ratings in the United Kingdom, as managed by the British Board of Film Classificatio (BBFC). Dr. Cranwell argues that the BBFC should also include portrayals of alcohol and tobacco in the current criteria. “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,” she said.

Cranwell also suggested a more definitive solution: “cut out this content at the source, through negotiation with the video makers and publishers,” noting that Disney recently announced that it will no longer feature smoking in its films.

The full study can be found here.