Alcohol and Tobacco in French teenagers’ favorite TV shows

Boris Chapoton is a researcher in cancer prevention. In this article, he provides an overview of his work on media influence and substance use in young people, which led to him being awarded the EUSPR/ SPAN Early Career Researcher Prize at the recent EUSPR conference.

A few months ago, I had the honour to get the first EUSPR/SPAN Early Career Researcher Prize at the 2015 EUSPR conference in Ljubljana for the talk “Messages about drinking and smoking in the content of the TV series most popular with French youth1”.

I will give a brief description of the presentation to you below.

The Media and Prevention?

As a matter of fact, it can be quite difficult to get funded in France and to get to work on a subject which involves entertainment, especially regarding the media. Research is indeed seen as a serious matter and as such it could be perceived as being the opposite of the media and entertainment, in particular when you are working in a cancer prevention center. Yet tobacco and alcohol, which are the first two avoidable causes of cancer, are still referenced in entertainment programming. Even though concerns have been raised about the presence of alcohol and tobacco in media and its possible influence on teenagers, only a small amount of research has been done in France.

EUSPR/ SPAN Early Career Researcher Prize

Boris received the EUSPR/ SPAN Early Career Researcher Prize at the 6th European Society for Prevention Research (EUSPR) conference in Ljubljana (© Boris Chapoton)

The Talk

The talk presented at the sixth EUSPR conference intended to provide an overview of the presence of alcohol and tobacco in prime-time television watched by French youths. To do so, 180 episodes were randomly selected from the 14 TV series that were most popular among French 13- to 17-year-olds during the 2013 television season. Eight of these series were French and six were American.

Out of 180 episodes analyzed, 88.3% had either a tobacco or alcohol reference in the episode. 87.7% had a reference to alcohol. 48.9% had a reference to tobacco. If we were looking at both of the substances together, we would find them in 48.3% of the total episodes analyzed.

When comparing the presence of alcohol in the series, the first 5 series depicting alcohol the most turned out to be French, with an average presence of alcohol of more than 5% per episode. We can notice as well that the first 2 of these series are broadcast every day.

Tobacco is for its part much less present than alcohol, with the majority of series having a tobacco presence of less than 1% per episode. Although the two substances are mainly shown both at the background and foreground of the scenes, they are not attached to the same setting. Tobacco is mainly presented in an open-air setting, like a street, whereas alcohol is mainly linked to a private setting, like at home, much more so than with a bar or a restaurant setting. Concerning the portrayal of the substances, we can notice that alcohol is more likely to be depicted in a positive way (p<0.01) and tobacco is more likely to be depicted in a negative way (p<0.03). For example, “here we are, a nice rosé the way you like”; or “I didn’t know people were still smoking in New-York”.


I don’t know about you, but most of the time people are quite surprised with these results. It could be because of the tobacco presence, which is perhaps not seen as bad as it could have been thought to be, or because of the alcohol presence which was perhaps not seen as being so important?

However, more than focusing on the substances’ presence only, these results are part of a wider research program2. We hypothesized that the presence of substances in TV episodes is indeed not the only influencing factor, but that the teenagers’ connection to a character in particular and the desirability to be like him would also play a big part in that influence. The attitude towards a product and the willingness to use it would be then stronger depending on how close people feel/want to be from the character using it. To measure this, a national survey will be conducted towards teenagers using a connectedness scale previously validated by the American team attached to the project3. The connectedness scale will be associated to their favorite TV show and questions linked to their opinion and substance use will be asked as well as socio-demographic data.

Here in the episodes analyzed, tobacco is not as present as alcohol. Yet, the first results gathered in our analyses tend to show that tobacco is used by charismatic characters and being linked to theold marketing formula4,5 with reference to empowerment, relaxation and sexy attitudes.

On the other side, alcohol is for its part present a lot and as such can be considered as being integrated into people’s life. It is consumed while eating or to relax, to socialize, to have fun or for many other everyday life occasions. That presence made its use kind of “normal”, especially since people using it are not considered as being alcoholic (from a fictional point of view anyway) and manage to live a desirable private, social and/or professional lives.

The research is still ongoing and I have to say I can’t wait for the results. Until then, I don’t watch TV programs the same way I used to do and I am wondering which fictional character I could have been influenced by…

What about you, what do you think? This research is within a French context, but can you notice a similar problematic in your own country? And most of all, do you sometimes wonder what a fictional character in particular could/would have done in your own place? Or do you sometimes think “Hey, what I am doing reminds me of such a fictional character!“? Please, feel free to comment and share your opinion with us!

About the Author:

My name is Boris Chapoton and I am currently working as a project manager at the Hygée Center for cancer prevention in Saint-Etienne (France). I have a health psychologist training background attached to a Masters degree in Public Health. One of the main projects I am working on is attached to media influence on teenagers concerning alcohol and tobacco use. I am also working on the prevention of professional risks of cancer within a professional training context towards teenagers and on the implementation of therapeutic patient education program dedicated to oral anti-cancer treatment. I am currently looking at doing a PhD on the media influence on substance use and would love to do a joint PhD between my actual work setting and an Irish university. Feel free to contact me through my professional address boris.chapoton[at] or through twitter


Cite this blog post
EUSPR Early Careers Forum (2016, March 17). Alcohol and Tobacco in French teenagers’ favorite TV shows. Preventing disease and ill health. Retrieved May 23, 2024, from

  1. Chapoton, B., Russell, C.A., Salles, B., Simond, Y. & Regnier-Denois, V. (2015, October). Messages about drinking and smoking in the content of the TV series most popular with French youth. Talk presented at the 6th International Conference and Members’ meeting – European Society for Prevention Research, Ljubljana, Slovenia. []
  2. Impact des Images Médiatisées Auprès des Jeunes (IMAJe), funded by the French National Cancer Institute (INCa). []
  3. Russell, C.A., Norman, A.T. and Heckler, S.E. 2004. The Consumption of Television Programming: Development and Validation of the Connectedness Scale. Journal of Consumer Research, 31 (June): 150-161. []
  4. Lum, K.L ; Polansky, J.R., Jackler, R.K and Glantz, S.A. 2008. Signed, sealed and delivered: “big tobacco” in Hollywood, 1927-1951. Tobacco Control, 17(5):313-323 []
  5. Schane, R.E. ; Glantz, S.A. and Ling, P.M. 2009. Social Smoking: Implications for Public Health, Clinical Practice, and Intervention Research. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 37(2):124-131 []

3 thoughts on “Alcohol and Tobacco in French teenagers’ favorite TV shows

  1. Good question – perhaps it could be both, with new drinkers influenced in different ways to those who are already drinking. And could link into the nature of social networks (including those on social media) and how young people share information.

  2. An interesting blog piece – thanks for sharing, and congratulations on your award at EUSPR. I wondered if you planned in your future work to look at the role of TV and internet advertising as well as actual programmes?

    • Thank you for your comment! In fact, another research project in relation to TV and internet advertising is pending, waiting to funding. This new project would be related to e-cigarette in particular. Advertising alcohol on TV is forbidden in France (as well as tobacco “of course”). On the other hand, advertising alcohol through internet has been authorized quite recently. It could be interesting to consider that variable indeed to see if it would emphasize teenagers’ consumption or why not the choice of their first drink(s) for example? What do you think that such advertisement would influence the most in teenager: the consumption of the brand advertised in particular or the consumption of the substance advertised in general?

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