Objective: We aimed to study the prevalence of smoking in a popular German television crime series ("A case for two"), which has been internationally distributed in 59 countries, over a 20 year period.
Method: A content analysis of five randomly selected episodes per year of one crime series for the period 1985 to 2004 (100 episodes in total) was conducted. Smoking status of all major and minor series characters was assessed. Each episode was coded regarding one or more smoking occurrences, defined as active smoking or handling with tobacco products by a character.
Results: 97% of the episodes portrayed tobacco use with a median of 5 occurrences per episode. The series contained 1013 major and minor characters; the overall smoking prevalence was 17.1%. A downward trend in smoking occurrences and prevalence of major and minor characters who smoke from 1985 was followed by an increase in the last decade.
Conclusion: Tobacco use is frequently portrayed in a popular prime-time German crime series, following a U curve over a 20 year period.