Young teenage girls are being encouraged to smoke and drink because of glamorous YouTube music video, according to new research.
A study found 13 to 15 year olds girls are most exposed, watching on average more than 70 images of booze alone within just ten months - based on just one viewing of each of the top 32 chart hits.
With the likelihood they watch the videos many times this means they could be exposed to hundreds if not thousands of images of smoking and drinking.
‘Timber’ by Pitbull, and ‘Drunk in Love’ by Beyoncé delivered the most alcohol content while ‘Trumpets’ by Jason Derulo and ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke delivered some of the highest number of tobacco impressions.
Previous research has shown exposure to alcohol and tobacco marketing raises the odds under-16s will start to drink and smoke.
The researchers said their findings pose a “significant health hazard that requires appropriate regulatory control” and called for the same restrictions online media as those imposed for TV and film.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, said UK teenagers are heavily exposed to alcohol and tobacco images and lyrics in YouTube music videos with 13 to 15 year olds, and girls, most at risk.
It said relatively little attention has been paid to the content, despite some being extensive and often depicted in a positive light. Added to that, the videos tend to be most popular with younger audiences.
The researchers used two online surveys of 2,068 eleven to 18 year olds and 2,232 adults to calculate viewing figures for the 32 most popular chart songs for 12 weeks between November 3, 2013 to January 19, 2014.
They also estimated the total number of images, depictions, lyrics or impressions of alcohol and tobacco in each one.
More than one in five (22%) of the youngsters had viewed the videos, which were available for an average of 7 to 10 months after release, compared to just six percent of the adults.
Based on population census data, the researchers calculated they delivered more than a billion (1006 million) impressions of alcohol and 203 million of tobacco to the British population from their release to the point of the survey.
And levels of individual exposure were almost four times higher among teenagers.
Those aged 13 to 15 received an average of 11.48 tobacco impressions, and 16 to 18 year olds 10.5, compared to just 2.85 for adults.
Furthermore, exposure was around 65% higher among girls with 13 to 15 year olds getting the most.
The pattern for alcohol was similar, but the overall number of impressions was five times more.
An estimated 52.11 were delivered to each teen compared with 14.13 to each adult. Individual exposure levels rocketed to 70.68 among 13 to 15 year old girls.
Dr Jo Cranwell, of Nottingham University, said: “If these levels of exposure were typical, then in one year music videos would be expected to deliver over four billion impressions of alcohol, and nearly one 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.”
A ban on paid-for placement of branded tobacco products has been in force since 2002 in the UK, while alcohol promotion is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority, the Portman Group, and industry voluntary codes of practice.
But while films are classified, and TV content is subject to controls during periods when children are likely to be watching, no such regulations apply to digital music videos.
The British Board of Film Classification has consulted on an age rating system for music videos made in the UK, but this does not cover tobacco and alcohol content.
Instead, it includes drug misuse, dangerous behaviour presented as safe, bad language, sex and nudity, threatening behaviour and violence.
Added the researchers: “Owing to the obvious health implications for adolescents, we suggest 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.”
Anti-smoking charities also called for legislation to protect teenagers from being exposed to images glamourising smoking and drinking on YouTube music videos.
Amanda Sandford, of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “Current legislation has gone a long way to protect young people from overt advertising of tobacco in the UK and this has been credited with falling rates of smoking among teens.
“Given what we know about how influential smoking imagery can be on young people more needs to be done to reduce this imagery in music videos and online.”
Two years ago research found almost one in five songs in modern top tens contains a reference to booze - twice as many as ten years ago and almost three times as many as 30 years ago.
The study also found today’s music is more likely to glorify drinking than songs of the previous decade. Recent number ones referring to alcohol include Rihanna’s ‘Cheers’ and Kesha’s ‘Tik Tok’.