Smoking featured in half of hip-hop videos, study finds

R&B and hip-hop have become the most popular music in the United States, but their music videos might be sending a bad health message by prominently featuring smoking and vaping, according to a new study.

The study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at 796 videos featured on Billboard magazine’s Hot R&B/Hip Hop songs list. Over five years, 460 of the videos featured smoking, either combustible or electronic, tobacco or marijuana. The proportion of these appearances each year ranged between 40.2 percent and 50.7 percent of the videos from 2013 to 2017.

The authors also divided the songs by popularity. In the most popular group, videos that have been viewed on YouTube and other streaming services from 112 million to 4 billion times, 49.7 percent showed either combustible or electronic smoking.

The authors noted that all of the videos they studied have been viewed a total of 39.5 billion times.

“These hip-hop music videos are showing tobacco and marijuana, and they’re being viewed billions of times, mostly by teens and young adults, and this really increases the likelihood that these young people will start using or be interested in using tobacco and marijuana themselves,” said Kristin Knutzen, one of the study’s authors and a research project coordinator at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. She became interested in the topic after watching music videos and seeing brand placement for a vape.

Hand-rolled products, including cigarettes and blunts, appeared most frequently in the videos. In 2017, 24.4 percent of music videos contained such products. Brand placement of all combustible products, in which a specific product was shown, increased from zero in 2013 to 9.9 percent in 2017.

The use of electronic cigarettes in music videos also increased. In 2013, 12 of 191 music videos showed e-cigs, rising to 16 of 225 videos in 2017. Brand placement of electronic devices grew from 25 percent in 2013 to 87.5 percent in 2017.

Similar research has been conducted in the fields of movies and television, but “I don’t think there’s been a study of music videos that I can recall in recent years looking at tobacco,” said Dan Romer, research director at the Annenberg Public Policy Center link at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study.

Although the study’s distinction between marijuana and tobacco products was not very clear, a point noted by both Romer and the authors, the presence of these products at all could be problematic.

“It’s likely going to make kids and young adults more interested in experimenting with tobacco and marijuana, particularly when they see influential people, such as a rapper they admire, using the product. It’s also decreasing the perceived riskiness of using the product,” Knutzen said.

For Romer, another issue with the presence of these products was the possibility of product placement, a factor that was not included in the study.

If tobacco companies are purposely placing products in music videos, it turns into a form of marketing, which the US Food and Drug Administration has control over, Romer said.

Efforts have been made to both highlight and help prevent the impact of media appearances of tobacco and smoking products on youth and other audiences.

The Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 between US attorneys general and five major tobacco companies restricts the advertising, promotion and marketing of cigarettes. The surgeon general released a report in 2012 that showed a relationship between actors smoking in movies and the likelihood of youth smoking.

In 2015, the FDA started the Fresh Empire Campaign, aimed at reducing and preventing tobacco use among youths who identified with hip-hop culture.

None of the products shown in the videos was from a manufacturer that participated in the Master Settlement Agreement, according to the study.

Knutzen and her co-authors suggest that their findings could present an opportunity for the music industry to self-regulate. However, they note that previous efforts to do so have failed, and measures like the Recording Industry Association of America’s parental advisory labels could entice youth rather than deter them.

However, these music videos could create conversation between parents and children. “It’s an opportunity for parents, not to necessarily forbid their kids from watching this or listening to this but really to sit down with them and understand what they are watching and why it’s important to them,” Knutzen said.