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YouTube videos glorify alcohol use, study finds

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 10:57 a.m.
Researchers analyzed 137 YouTube videos featuring alcohol brands popular with underage drinkers, such as Bud Light, Hennessey, Smirnoff Ice and Grey Goose. The videos had been viewed nearly 97 million times, 40 percent being traditional ads, the investigators said. Ten percent of the videos showed off the ability to chug alcohol.
YouTube
Researchers analyzed 137 YouTube videos featuring alcohol brands popular with underage drinkers, such as Bud Light, Hennessey, Smirnoff Ice and Grey Goose. The videos had been viewed nearly 97 million times, 40 percent being traditional ads, the investigators said. Ten percent of the videos showed off the ability to chug alcohol.
Christopher Schewe, of Denver, is behing 'The ShoeNice' videos on YouTube, in which he chugs bottles of alcohol.
YouTube
Christopher Schewe, of Denver, is behing 'The ShoeNice' videos on YouTube, in which he chugs bottles of alcohol.

He calls himself “ShoeNice,” and he apparently can chug a bottle of raspberry Smirnoff vodka in 22 seconds.

Don't believe him? He'll show you on YouTube. He's got nearly 600,000 subscribers to his channel.

There's a video of him chugging what appears to be a half-gallon of Jack Daniels that has 387,000 views.

Now, ShoeNice is cited in a University of Pittsburgh study along with similar videos and advertisements.

Alcohol brands and consumption are often glorified in YouTube videos, a social media space occupied by impressionable children, new research shows.

A study led by the University of Pittsburgh found the videos generally characterize alcohol intake as fun, glamorous and social.

Here's how the study describes a video featuring Christopher Schewe of Denver, the man behind the ShoeNice videos.

“A middle-aged man shows the camera a full bottle of Smirnoff raspberry vodka. After laughing about how disgusting his actions will be, he proceeds to drink the entire 750 (milliliter) bottle of 80-proof distilled spirits without pausing.”

Researchers analyzed 137 YouTube videos featuring alcohol brands popular with underage drinkers, such as Bud Light beer, Hennessey cognac, Smirnoff Ice malt beverage and Grey Goose vodka. The videos had been viewed nearly 97 million times, 40 percent being traditional ads, the investigators said. Ten percent of the videos showed off the ability to chug alcohol.

“Not a single video we found had some kind of a public health message or came from a public health entity,” says lead researcher Dr. Brian Primack, director of Pitt's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health. “Our aim is not to say, ‘Oh, people should never be watching YouTube.' We're not asking for censorship. However, If we understand these messages are out there, then we might be able to respond better.”

There is no way to know how many of the tens of millions of viewers were underage, Primack says.

Reached via email, Schewe dismissed the study.

“Studies are just a gathering of people with opinions,” he wrote. “I am a freak of nature, can't compare me to the standard.”

The study, which included co-authors from the University of Michigan and Brown University, was published in the current issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Primack suggests parents play a larger role in educating their children about alcohol ads and videos featuring drinking.

“We need to demystify what is going on and expose some of the financial relationships occurring in these ads,” Primack says. “Even if the industry isn't directly involved in production and has no culpability, these are still videos young people could try to emulate and end up in the emergency room.”

Schewe said he laughed after reading the study.

“I am 48 years old, I have been drinking since 16 and nothing has changed,” he said. “It is just more public now like anything else because of the internet. I can't believe that many doctors did a study on something that will always be the same. High school and college kids love to drink and party, and plenty of adults also.”

He says his videos are especially popular in college dorms.

“When I see a kid on Snapchat trying to do three or more shots chugging, I tell them not to,” he says.

Hollie Geitner, vice president of WordWrite Communications, a Pittsburgh public relations firm, likens the videos to tobacco ads in the 1950s and '60s that glorified smoking.

“Ads have always been shared, but it's no longer a newspaper or magazine clipping taped to a wall in a bedroom. It's a sponsored ad on YouTube shared with thousands of friends,” she said. “As a society, it's critical we teach children, and adults, how to determine what is authentic and what is fabricated or meant to manipulate us into doing something. Stories swirl around us every single day on multiple media channels and platforms, so we must do a gut check before sharing anything we see or read.”

Geitner says viewers should ask themselves the following questions:

• Is this real or fake?

• What is the real purpose behind this?

• Who is benefiting from this article/video?

• What do I already know about this topic that debunks this?

• Should I do some research before I share this?

“And for parents, it's critical to teach children, as part of their growth, to ask these questions themselves,” Geitner said.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Bencschmitt.

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