MICHIGAN STATE (US)—Pro-smoking videos—especially those that are sexual in nature—are prominent on the online video site YouTube and very accessible to young people, according to a new study.

Researchers at Michigan State University found that a search for “smoking fetish” and “smoking fetishism” returned more than 2,200 such videos, compared with only 1,480 anti-smoking videos. Full results of the study are reported in the journal Health Communication.

“The high frequency of smoking fetish videos concerns me,” says Hye-Jin Paek,  associate professor of advertising, public relations, and retailing.

Paek conducted the study of “smoking fetish” videos—videos that combine smoking and sexuality. “The fact that we can see the videos and analyze their content means that teenagers can see them too.”

Paek says that 85 percent of the objectionable videos are completely accessible to adolescents. She hopes the study will alarm tobacco-control experts to carefully monitor YouTube along with other Internet Web sites—and lead YouTube to strengthen its regulatory system.

“YouTube doesn’t use the same guidelines as the movies do to regulate the videos,” Paek says. “But why not, when YouTube is arguably more exposed to youth than movies are?

“I hope YouTube strengthens its system, but I also hope tobacco-control experts will pay more attention to the Internet and new media as potential channels for both risky and healthy messages.”

The majority of smoking fetish videos studied explicitly portrayed smoking behaviors, such as lighting up, inhaling, exhaling, and holding the tobacco product. More than half were rated PG-13 or R.

More than 21 percent of the videos contained at least one of the five fetish elements defined in the paper, including gloves, high heels, boots, stockings, and leather or latex clothes.

YouTube’s regulation policy is carried out by the site’s users, Paek says. Viewers can “flag” a video if they judge its content as inappropriate. Within 48 hours, YouTube staff reviews the video, although that does not guarantee the video will be deleted.

For videos that are flagged and remain on the site, users must verify they are 18 or older by creating a YouTube account to view the video.

Researchers from the University of Georgia contributed to the study.

More news from Michigan State University: http://news.msu.edu/