Popular music videos may expose teens to alcohol and tobacco imagery, and may encourage them to use the substances, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Communication Health.

There aren’t any regulations in the United Kingdom, where the study was conducted, on drug and alcohol use in music videos. Though there is an upcoming age-based rating system created by The British Board of Film Classification, the system will not cover tobacco and alcohol use, only drug misuse, in addition to bad language, dangerous behaviors presented as safe, sexual behavior and nudity, and threatening behavior and violence.

The researchers argue that that drug and alcohol-based content is not only present in popular music videos, but also that the content is dangerous because it portrays drug and alcohol use in a positive light.

"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 behavior presented as safe rating categories," the researchers wrote..

Their research is based on the 32 most popular music videos from the UK’s top 40 charts between November 3, 2013 and January 19, 2014. The videos withg the most tobacco-related content were “Trumpets” by Jason Derulo and “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, whereas “Timber” by Pitbull and “Drunk in Love” by Beyonce showed the most alcohol use.

Two online surveys regarding these music videos were completed by 2,068 teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18, as well as 2232 adults aged 19 and up, to estimate the videos’ reach. In the seven to ten months in which the videos were available after their release, the survey found the average percentage of viewing was 22% for teens compared to 6% for adults.

Then, each video was broken down into intervals of ten seconds each, in order to estimate the total number of times a viewer was exposed to impressions of alcohol and tobacco. Impressions were considered to be any related images, depictions, and lyrics within the video.

Overall, the researchers calculated that the videos delivered a total of 1006 million impressions of alcohol and 203 million impressions of tobacco.

For tobacco, teens aged 13-15 were most exposed to those impressions. In this age range, teens received an average of 11.48 tobacco impressions each, whereas teens ages 16 to 18 received 10.5, and adults only 2.85. Additionally, exposure was 65% higher among girls.

Alcohol exposure showed a similar pattern to that of tobacco, but the numberof impressions was nearly five times higher. The researchers estimated each teen was exposed to 52.11 alcohol impressions, and adults to 14.13. Individual exposure levels were a soaring 70.68 among girls ages 13 to 15.

“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,” the researchers wrote. “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.”

Reflecting on the results, the researchers argue that music videos are a “significant health hazard that required appropriate regulatory control,” based on their potential to influence young teens to partake in drug and alcohol use from normalizing or even glorifying these behaviors.

Source: Cranwell J, Opazo-Breton M, and Britton J. Adult and adolescent exposure to tobacco and alcohol content in contemporary YouTube music videos in Great Britain: a population estimate. Journal of Epidemiology & Communication Health. 2015.