Music Videos Glamorize Tobacco And Alcohol Use

August 07, 1997

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - A content analysis of 518 televised music videos from four major cable networks showed 25.7 percent of MTV videos portrayed use of tobacco, most often by the lead singer, according to a study conducted by faculty from three medical centers. That contrasted with 22.9 percent of videos showing smoking on VH1, 16.5 percent on Black Entertainment Television and just 11.7 percent on Country Music Television.

However, when the researchers looked at the depicting of alcohol use, there were no significant differences among the four networks, though MTV had the highest percentage--26.9 percent--of videos with alcohol.

"The use of alcohol was associated with a high degree of sexuality," said Robert H. DuRant, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University, and his colleagues, in a study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"Of primary importance is that videos with measurable levels of sexuality or eroticism were significantly more likely to contain alcohol use than videos with no reference to sexuality," DuRant said, adding, "Experimental studies have found that viewing MTV videos with sexually explicit themes influences adolescents' attitudes concerning premarital sex and other sexual risk behaviors."

The new study was an outgrowth of a study of the same 518 videos reported in May, which showed that showed 22.4 percent of MTV videos portrayed overt violence, almost double those on VH-1, Country Music Television or Black Entertainment Television. That study, published in the May issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, showed that videos by Guns N' Roses and the Beastie Boys, both rock groups, tied for most violence with 36 instances of violence in single videos.

The new report, based on information collected at the same time, focused on smoking, alcohol and sex. The new study found alcohol was used on screen in a significantly higher proportion of videos portraying sexuality than of videos with no reference to sexuality, they reported. "Sexuality was not associated with tobacco use in the videos."

"The positive pairing of alcohol use with sexually explicit themes on music videos could have a profound influence on adolescents' normative expectations concerning alcohol use," DuRant said.

The researchers noted, "Some social scientists argue that it [television] should be considered as important as parents and teachers as a model of values, beliefs and behaviors."

Besides looking at the four networks, the study also look at the music genre. Smoking was shown on 30.1 percent of the rap videos, 22.6 percent of "adult contemporary" videos and 21.6 percent of the rock videos. But it was depicted on just 11.7 of the country videos and 10,9 percent of rhythm and blues videos.

Alcohol was shown on 27.4 percent of the rap videos, 24.7 percent rock, 20.7 percent of country, 19.4 percent of adult contemporary, and 16.8 percent of rhythm and blues.

"Sexuality constituted a greater percentage of videos on Black Entertainment Television, followed by VH1, MTV and CMT," DuRant said.

The videos were scored by male-female teams of college students, which DuRant said may have resulted in underestimating the degree of sexuality or eroticism that was portrayed. "On occasions when the principal investigator had to determine whether a behavior should be scored because the members of a team could not agree, it became clear that male and female scorers often perceived this aspect of a video quite differently. Males tended to give videos higher scores on the sexuality scale than females."

The college students included two African Americans, two Asian Americans, three whites and one whose heritage was a combination of East Indian and Canadian.

The researchers also found that the lead singer or performer was twice as likely to smoke and three times as likely to drink as a background singer or musician. And in those music videos where smoking or drinking occurred, "it was young adults who portrayed smoking behavior in 76 percent of the videos and alcohol use in 68 percent of the videos."

The researchers were from Bowman Gray, Harvard Medical School and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. The study was paid for by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Tobacco Control Program of Boston.


For further information, call Mark Wright (email: or Bob Conn (email: at 910-716-4587.
Once the International Neurosonology '97 has begun on August 13, call the conference press room at 910-724-6923.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

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