Background: Many pro-smoking videos on YouTube reach view counts in the hundreds of thousands and more.Yet, there is limited information on who is viewing these potentially misleading videos.This study attempts to understand the viewership of online pro-smoking videos to examine if youth at high risk for smoking are more likely to watch these videos. Methods: We conducted a selective exposure experiment with a national sample of youths (ages 15-21 years; n = 614) to identify characteristics that make individuals more likely to select pro-smoking videos. During a 10-min browsing session, participants were given a set of 16 videos (eight smoking and eight nonsmoking) and were asked to view video(s) of their choice. Exposure to videos was unobtrusively logged. View count was manipulated such that smoking videos had either high or low views. Results: Behavioral data revealed that youth with higher interest in smoking were more likely to select and spend more time watching pro-smoking videos than youth with lower interest in smoking.The view count manipulation did not affect selection patterns. However, exposure to high view count smoking videos was associated with more positive attitudes toward smoking. Conclusions: The findings of this study call into question the existence and prominence of pro-smoking videos onYouTube and bring to attention the need for regulatory or monitoring efforts of such content. Implications: Given the presence and prevalence of misleading pro-smoking videos online, this is the first study to ask the practical and important question of who is viewing these videos. Using behavioral data, we are able to demonstrate that youth who are high at risk for smoking are more susceptible to select and spend more time viewing pro-smoking videos than youth who are low at risk for smoking. Findings also show that when pro-smoking videos appear to be “popular,” they affect attitudes toward smoking. Our findings provide policy implications regarding regulation of smoking promotion videos online.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health