YouTube Videos Promote Smoking, Study Finds

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Cigarette ads that would not be allowed on television are now popping up on YouTube, according to a new study this week in the journal Tobacco Control.

Researchers from New Zealand searched the popular post-your-own-video site for references to five major cigarette brands — Marlboro, L&M, Winston, Benson & Hedges, and Mild Seven — and then analyzed 163 relevant video clips that ranked highly according to YouTube’s “most watched” measure. Many of the videos were old ads (some of them now outlawed in much of the world) or archival footage, and many of them featured celebrities. AFP reports today:

There were also scenes from films with popular actors and a cigarette whose brand was visible, extracts of tobacco-sponsored sporting events, and TV footage from the 1950s and 1960s, including The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies and even the Beatles.

Overall, the researchers classified 71% of the videos as promoting a “pro-tobacco” message and a scant 4% as having an anti-tobacco message. The remaining videos were neutral.

The researchers write that many of the videos appeared to be “very professionally made,” and that companies’ failure to request removal of the videos for copyright infringement is “consistent with indirect marketing activity by tobacco companies or their proxies.” The major tobacco companies, however, deny any involvement in posting the YouTube videos — which can be done anonymously.

According to AFP, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris International, producer of Marlboro and L&M, said that her company never markets products on YouTube. “We have previously asked YouTube to remove content related to our brands and will be contacting YouTube again following this study,” she told a reporter.