Chapter 9

Does Media Make a Difference?

Advertisers spend lots of money to influence youth. Protect your child by teaching him or her to be smart about how the media may encourage unhealthy attitudes and behaviors about drug use.

Children are exposed to media influences every day; designs on food packages, milk cartons or cereal boxes. On the way to school they see billboards advertising everything from French fries to political candidates. At school they might see backpacks and clothes with designer logos, or images from tobacco or alcohol brands. Friends discuss TV programs, movies, video games, or songs with controversial lyrics.

Research tells us that children are influenced both negatively and positively by media they are exposed to. Advertising is everywhere, and when you stop to think about it, you may find yourself realizing how vulnerable everybody is to the media’s reach. For example, the tobacco industry has done a powerful job of using media to influence people’s attitudes about smoking. Research provides strong evidence that simply viewing smoking in movies promotes a desire to start smoking among adolescents.

In some countries the media are used to educate people about the dangers of smoking. This chapter looks at the ways media may influence your child, then suggests ways you can reduce its influence on your child’s behavior.

Quiz: My Child and the Media

Take this survey about media awareness. The term ‘media’ refers to the TV, the internet, movies, magazines, radio, song lyrics, and all advertising sources, including billboard advertisements.

  1. I know how much TV my child watches daily.

  2. I check the internet sites my child has visited.

  3. I know what kind of music my child listens to

  4. I know which TV shows and movies my child watches.

  5. I have set limits on how much time my child may use the internet.

  6. My child is not allowed to wear clothing that contains advertisements of tobacco or alcohol.

  7. I am aware that in my city/country, tobacco and alcohol companies advertise their products. I have taken time to discuss this with my teenager.

Answering yes or partially shows areas where you are media sensitive, and realize the impact that media can have on your child.

Learn more about the media and how it can influence children’s attitudes about drugs by reading the rest of this chapter. Remember. By ‘drugs’ we mean illicit drugs, as well as alcohol and tobacco, and misused prescription drugs.

Types of Media:

Media is a strong social and cultural influence

Listed over the next few pages are the most common types of media used to advertise alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and a brief description of each.


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Youth who watch television can be exposed to alcohol - and in some countries cigarette - advertising, that may occur at all times of the day and evening. Regardless of the network or time of day, advertisements and programs containing promotion of drugs and drug use are common. Remember, youth who watch people smoking on television are strongly influenced by these images and are more likely to start smoking.

Types of Media: Internet

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Youth having access to the World Wide Web without restrictions are able to view many types of advertising and images that promote the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Using the internet to obtain information (which may or may not be accurate), shop, communicate or be entertained can still expose youth to countless advertisements and images about drug use. And many youth may spend more time logged-on than they do engaging in other activities during their waking hours.

Types of Media: Print

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Magazines, billboards, newspapers, posters, contests, clothing and other posted advertisements that contain images promoting use of alcohol and tobacco are widespread media formats that youth are exposed to daily, both intentionally and unintentionally. For example, tobacco advertising is placed in store checkout lanes, or at gas and petrol stations because these are places where adults purchase them. Whether or not you use tobacco, your child is exposed to this type of advertising when they see these messages.

Types of Media: Radio and Music

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Youth may be exposed to radio advertisements for alcohol and song lyrics that encourage use of drugs. Music downloads have become available online for no or low cost. Purchase of explicit lyrics recordings does not require proof of age or parental approval.

Media and its influence

The media provides healthy messages that can influence youth to not use drugs. But the media also provides a way for the alcohol and tobacco industries to entice young people to use their products by using multiple strategies. The following section discusses how the media can affect a young person’s perception about drug use.

Quiz: Ask yourself and learn the facts

  1. Teenagers who have never smoked but have been exposed to tobacco advertising are how many times more likely to say that they might soon try a cigarette soon compared to youth not exposed to tobacco marketing?

    The correct answer is: 3 times more likely.

  2. What percentage of adult smokers started their habit at or before the age 18 (which makes youth an essential market for tobacco advertisers)?

    The correct answer is: 90%.

  3. At what age can children start to recognize alcohol brand logos?

    The correct answer is: 3 years-old.

Keep in mind: This means that even at a very young age, children remember and associate with commercials that promote alcoholic brand names.

The reality is that this research shows the trend and impact of advertising on all our children.

Television and Movies

Young Boy Watching TV

Television advertising is designed to change attitudes about drinking. Young people report more positive feelings about drinking and their own likelihood to drink after viewing alcohol ads, or seeing actors drink onscreen. Also, research provides strong evidence that viewing smoking in movies promotes smoking initiation among adolescents. What teenagers see on TV or in the movies does influence their decisions about drug use.

Decision Making

To learn more about how media influences teenagers’ decisions to smoke or not, watch this 30-second video from a scientist in the United States, James D. Sargent, MD.

Dr Sargent has studied the influence of the media on smoking behavior in youth. His research has shown that when an adolescent sees a lot of movies where the actors are smoking, the adolescent is more likely to start smoking.

Learn the facts:

We present some facts based on research by the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy about popular movies, many of which are seen all over the world. The facts are based on studies in westernized countries, but they are most likely true in all countries where media is easily accessed and offered. Test your knowledge of movies’ influence on youthful audiences.

  1. The US Office of National Drug Control Policy- Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music study found that how many movies were "substance free?"

    Few movies Some movies Most Movies

    Only 5 of the 200 movies reviewed had no portrayal of drug use. Illegal drugs appeared in 22 percent of the movies, tobacco in 89 percent, alcohol in 93 percent, and other legal drugs (prescription or over-the-counter medicines) in 29 percent.

  2. Approximately what proportion of the movies reviewed depicted one or more negative consequence of drug use?

    About 25% About 50% About 75%
  3. Which of the following drugs was used by actors in most movies rated G, and PG and nearly all of the PG-13 and R-rated movies: Tobacco, alcohol or marijuana?

    Tobacco Alcohol Marijuana

    Alcohol was used by actors in 76 percent of G or PG movies, and in nearly all PG-13 and R-rated movies.

Correct answers: 1 - Few Movies, 2 – About 50%, 3 – Alcohol

Source: Media Campaign: Office of National Drug Control Policy - Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music.

Websites for More Information

Learn more about how to set parental controls on your television by contacting your cable provider or visit the following cable sponsored sites:

Monitor what your child watches when you are home

Choose a few times over the next week, preferably during the evening, when you can watch at least an hour of TV with your child.


Adolescents may be more comfortable using the Internet than any age group. They have grown up with this new technology and are very comfortable using it. They use it for receiving and sending e-mail, downloading music, listening to music, visiting chat rooms, socializing, and buying stuff and playing games.

Kids using the internet on laptop computers

Some facts:

Some Internet drug sites may even encourage drug use. Some go so far as to glorify drug use as a harmless recreational activity, or as a means to expand brain power.

And the Internet may be a source of drugs. It may be as easy to buy many types of illicit drugs online as it is to purchase a book or CD. These drugs include powerful pain killers and “date rape” drugs.

Be Internet Smart

Consider the following things you may want to do or try.

  • Limit your child’s access to the internet for recreational use by setting time limits for gaming and chatting.

  • Be cautious about allowing your child access to the internet in their bedroom or when you are not home.

  • Encourage using the internet together; explain some of the more negative content

So how easy is it to buy drugs on the Internet?

You may want to do this activity with your child - please choose one of the three options:


Youth from even young ages can easily access music through Internet purchase, mobile phone companies, and CDs. Without parental/caregiver restrictions and communication about lyrics that promote drug use, children are at risk for being negatively influenced by these kinds of messages.

Youth with an iPod

Some Facts:

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy- Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music:

  • About 24% of the1000 songs surveyed contained a direct reference to alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs.
  • Illegal drugs appeared in 18 percent of the 1,000 songs in the sample, alcohol in 17 percent, and tobacco in 3 percent.
  • Marijuana/Cannabis was by far the most common reference to an illicit drug.

Source: Office of National Drug Control Policy - Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music

For more resources about the media and ratings:

Learn how to set parental controls on your child’s iTunes at Apple’s website.

Drugs in lyrics

Popular songs that youth listen to daily have lyrics that promote and encourage the use of drugs. Do an internet search and identify 5 artists with explicit lyrics promoting drugs use. Try using the following search phrase: “popular music containing lyrics with alcohol references.”

There are also many sites that rate movies, video games, and music, for example Common Sense Media


Tobacco companies sponsor sports to reach a large number of youth people with their advertisements. They also give away merchandise and promotional items such as hats, t-shirts, and backpacks with their logos to promote their products.

Some facts:

One study in California found that about 15% of retail outlets display cigarettes right next to candy. That number may be even greater in other countries.

  • Food mini-markets and stores often display tobacco and alcohol advertising and promotions where youth frequently visit.

  • In many countries there are strict limits on the advertising of tobacco on TV, radio or in magazines. The most popular marketing technique used by tobacco companies is billboard advertising.

What can prevention-smart parents do?

There are lots of things you might want to consider doing as a parent to reduce your child’s exposure to messages that may promote drug use.

Take a look at the list we've made below. You may find you are already doing many of these already. We also suggest that you review these suggestions and discuss with your partner and your child which ones are the most important and realistic for your home.

  1. Monitor what your child watches:
    Many televisions offer parental control options. Discussing this protection action with your child will communicate how important the issue of negative advertising is to you and the whole family.

  2. Limit the time your child watches TV.
    Watching television for more than 1-2 hours a day might be excessive.

  3. Set guidelines for what your child watches.
    Let your child help you set the guidelines for appropriate use.

  4. Avoid using the television as a babysitter.
    Try to have your child involved in an activity other than watching television when you are busy.

  5. Keep TV out of children’s bedrooms.
    You are not able to monitor what your child watches as easily.

  6. Talk to your child about what they are watching.
    Take time to discuss drug use portrayed in TV/movies. Tell your child how you would feel if they used drugs.

  7. Don’t watch TV during meals.
    Eating together as a family on a regular basis is a protective factor for your family. Giving each other your full attention without the distraction of the television is important.

  8. Don’t make the TV the focal point of the room.
    Draw importance away from the TV by making another piece of furniture or painting the focus of the room.

  9. Watch television together as a family.

  10. Similar to television use, set guidelines with your child on appropriate use of the internet.

  11. Frequently check the search history to know what sites your child is visiting.
    See the sidebar earlier in this chapter with info on how to do this.

  12. Limit the time your child spends on the internet.
    30-minute intervals once or twice daily are sufficient unless your child is doing research for school.

  13. Don’t allow your child to use identifying information such as their real name or address online.
    If they want to purchase a product online, they should have your permission.

  14. Don’t allow your child to engage in chat conversations that include adults or youth much older than them.

  15. Learn about what artists your child listens to.
    Go through the music your child listens to together and discuss what is appropriate.

  16. Set guidelines on what your child can purchase.
    This helps to limit your child’s exposure to negative lyrics.

  17. Ask your child what they think about drug use promotion in music:
    Talk with your child about the lyrics and ask them what they think.

  18. Limit your child’s use of electronics.
    (Mp3 players, CD players, radio, etc.) If your child watches TV, listens to CDs and is on the internet, on a daily basis, time limits promote your child to be involved in alternative activities.

Tobacco and Alcohol Advertising

Here are a couple of ideas to get you and your kids thinking about their exposure to tobacco and alcohol ads.

Does the Media Make a Difference?

Here are some additional resources to help you learn more about the media and its positive and negative influences on health behavior in young people.

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