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Press Contact: Marcia Brown-Machen, City of Berkeley Public Health Division, (510) 981-5330

Berkeley Youth Find Half of Most Popular Songs Mention Smoking or Tobacco Use

Berkeley, California (Thursday, September 09, 2010) - Smoking may be making a comeback in youth culture, after decades of being perceived as unhip. In a recent song-lyric and music video analysis, Berkeley youth found that 49.4 percent of their favorite songs contained references to smoking or tobacco use. The sample of 79 of the top-played songs on the four Bay Area radio stations most popular among 12-24 year olds also revealed that 51.3 percent of the music videos from these songs featured smoking imagery.

These were the findings of a City of Berkeley Tobacco Prevention Program project sponsored by the Mixed Messages Remix Campaign. This is an effective and innovative project that empowers high school and college interns to educate younger students by using media literacy and critical thinking strategies to examine the messages they are receiving in popular music and music videos.  Thousands of Berkeley youth have taken part in the Mixed Messages Remix Campaign over the last six years through various activities to decrease the influence of this glamorization.

This study brings to light many concerns and potential serious health impacts for Berkeley youth. Youth are highly influenced by lyrics, behaviors and images of their favorite performing artists, and they are much more likely to start smoking after being exposed to such imagery.
Smoking in music videos has become pervasive as 30 percent of the music videos that contained smoking scenes belonged to songs that had no reference to tobacco use. For example, the lyrics describing unrequited love were paired with dramatized images of cigarette smoking. From Lil' Wayne and Jay-Z to Kanye West and Lady Gaga, a number of contemporary artists mention and glamorize tobacco use, including cigars, blunts, and cigarettes in their song lyrics and videos.

There are potentially serious health impacts due to this imagery, as Public Health research has determined that viewing even a modest level of music videos may result in substantial exposure of glamorized depictions of tobacco and alcohol use. A Dartmouth University study found that adolescents who saw the most smoking in movies were nearly three times as likely to have started smoking as those in the lowest exposure group. This "dose-response" effect can be extended to exposure from music videos as well.

Betty Yang, a recent UC Berkeley graduate and intern with the Tobacco Prevention Program, wonders “Whether the tobacco industry has resorted to music and film media to market their product, since tobacco cannot be legally advertised on television?”

The good news is that the increased risk for smoking initiation as a result of exposure to smoking in the movies can be reduced by viewing anti-smoking advertisements.
For more information about the Mixed Messages Remix Campaign and other tobacco prevention initiatives, contact: Marcia Brown-Machen at QuitNow@cityofberkeley.info or (510) 981-5330.


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