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.
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-minute browsing session, participants were given a set of 16 videos (8 smoking and 8 non-smoking) 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.
Behavioral data revealed that youth with higher interest in smoking were more likely to select and spend more time watching pro-smoking videos than were 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.
The findings of this study call into question the existence and prominence of pro-smoking videos on YouTube and brings to attention the need for regulatory or monitoring efforts of such content.