Objectives: To determine the quantity of tobacco use in network television programming popular among US youth and to examine variation in tobacco depictions by TV Parental Guidelines system rating and television network.
Design: A content analysis was conducted of broadcast network television programming popular among youth. Nielsen viewership rating data were used to identify a sample of top-rated television series for youth aged 12 to 17 years during the fall 2007 television season. Depictions of tobacco use per television episode were examined by TV Parental Guidelines rating and television network. χ(2) testing was used to examine differences in proportions of tobacco depictions across television episode ratings and networks.
Setting: Data collection and analysis were conducted at the American Legacy Foundation (now known as Legacy).
Subjects: Broadcast television viewers in 2007.
Main outcome measure: Tobacco use depictions on broadcast television were examined.
Results: Forty percent of television episodes examined had at least 1 depiction of tobacco use. Of these depictions, 89% were of cigarettes. Among episodes rated TV-PG (ie, parental guidance suggested) (N = 73), 50% showed 1 or more incidents of cigarette use, in contrast to 26% of TV-14 (ie, parents strongly cautioned) episodes. The percentage of episodes with any tobacco use depictions was highest on the FOX network (44%; n = 32), followed closely by The CW (CBS-Warner Brothers) (41%; n = 30).
Conclusions: Substantial tobacco use was observed in television shows popular among youth. It is projected that almost 1 million youth were exposed to tobacco depictions through the programming examined. Tobacco use on television should be a cause for concern, particularly because of the high volume of television viewing among younger audiences.