Younger Game Players Exposed to Alcohol and Tobacco Images are Twice as Likely to Try Them

Teens and preteens that play video games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty double their likelihood of trying cigarettes and alcohol, according to a new study from the University of Nottingham.

Many adults are aware that media like movies, tv shows, advertisements, and youtube videos can influence their behavior.  Remember all those adults dumping buckets of ice water on their heads? And it probably goes without saying that kids may be even more impressionable than adults.

There's a wealth of research on the effects of advertisement on children.  A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that more children (5-6 years) were able recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.

10 to 14 year olds that watch movies with a lot of smoking are more likely to start smoking

One 2012 study found, "For each additional 500 scenes of smoking they had seen, the children were 33 to 49 percent more likely to try smoking themselves over the next two years." The study also determined that teens who watch "alcohol-fueled movies are more likely to progress to binge drinking."

Some children watch movie characters smoking or drinking and view it as rebellious, cool, and something to emulate. Teenagers will experiment, right?  But consider that "one US study found that smoking just one cigarette in early childhood doubled the chance of a teenager becoming a regular smoker by the age of 17, and a London study suggests that smoking a single cigarette is a risk indicator for children to become regular smokers up to three years later."

An official from the Institute of Medicine is attributed to saying "Among people who smoked daily, 90 percent had tried their first cigarette before the age of suggests that if someone has not smoked a cigarette by 25 years old, they are unlikely ever to do so."

Nottingham study is the first to examine how video games influence alcohol and tobacco use in adolescents

The recent study from Univ. of Nottingham suggest's that, similar to movies, video games can influence of children's smoking and drinking habits. Based on a list of top 100 games played in the United Kingdom (2012-2013) the study focused on action, adventure, shooter, stealth, and survival games that used avatars and contained alcohol and tobacco content.

To identify the games that had alcohol and tobacco content, the researchers relied on ratings the official game developer and third party rating organizations: Pan European Game Information (PEGI),,, Internet Movie Database (IMDb), and Common Sense Media. These sources reported substance content in 17 action/adventure games.  However, the study highlighted that no mention of substance content was reported by the official PEGI system.

Through a YouGov online survey, they asked children aged 11-17 years which of the 17 select games they played, how often they played them, how far they got in the games. Then they asked about their smoking and drinking behavior.  They received a total of 1,094 responses. The mean age was 14 years and 50 percent were male.

Of the games listed on the survey, the five most popular video games were Grand Theft Auto V, Grand Theft Auto IV, Assassin's Creed III, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III.  Narrowing the research focus to these five popular games, the researchers quantified the frequency of alcohol and tobacco references. Following industry accepted coding guidelines, the researchers coded the frequency of alcohol and tobacco references in video clips they obtained from youtube.  Grand Theft Auto V had the greatest occurrences, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III had the least.

Playing video games for ages 18+  increases the odds of smoking

Examining the data, after adjusting for age and sex, a player was twice as likely to try alcohol and play at least one of the 17 games. The odds of trying smoking were also significant: a player who played at least one of the games was more than twice as likely to try smoking, and the odds increase to four times if the game is rated for ages 18+.  Playing more games

Even though a majority of the games are rated for mature audiences 18+, a large percentage of respondents were under the recommended age.  Fifty five percent of 11-14 year old respondents had played at least one of the select games.

Consumers should have accurate information on the alcohol and tobacco content of video games

PEGI (Pan European Game Information) is a game rating organization who's age appropriate warning labels are on video game products sold in the majority of European countries, similar to the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) logo we might see on video game products sold in North America.

Violence and strong language is duly documented, but the study found that the PEGI labels for the five popular games in their study made no mention of alcohol or tobacco content.
ESRB Label for Call of Duty: Black Ops II

PEGI Label for Call of Duty: Black Ops II

With sixty percent of the adolescent respondents playing at least one of the 17 games, 15 of which are rated for mature audience 18+, the study believes that over half of British parents are not aware of the content their children are exposed to while playing video games.  The research suggests that the major video game rating agency in Europe (PEGI) do more to advise parents of the alcohol and tobacco content in video games.

The full study from Univ. of Nottingham can be found at Liebert Publishers

No comments: