Smoking in a popular German television crime series 1985–2004
Reiner Hanewinkel⁎, Gudrun Wiborg
Institute for Therapy and Health Research, IFT-Nord, Düsternbrooker Weg 2, 24105 Kiel, Germany
Available online 15 February 2008
Objective. We aimed to study the prevalence of smoking in a popular German television crime series (“A case for two”), which has been
internationally distributed in 59 countries, over a 20 year period.
Method. A content analysis of five randomly selected episodes per year of one crime series for the period 1985 to 2004 (100 episodes in total)
was conducted. Smoking status of all major and minor series characters was assessed. Each episode was coded regarding one or more smoking
occurrences, defined as active smoking or handling with tobacco products by a character.
Results. 97% of the episodes portrayed tobacco use with a median of 5 occurrences per episode. The series contained 1013 major and minor
characters; the overall smoking prevalence was 17.1%. A downward trend in smoking occurrences and prevalence of major and minor characters
who smoke from 1985 was followed by an increase in the last decade.
Conclusion. Tobacco use is frequently portrayed in a popular prime-time German crime series, following a U curve over a 20 year period.
© 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Smoking; Television; Longitudinal; Germany
The role that smoking in various media including movies and
television might play in prompting smoking behaviour among
the youth has drawn increasing attention by tobacco control
experts in recent years (Wellman et al., 2006). Most of this
research has focused on linking exposure to smoking in
Hollywood movies to adolescent smoking. Cross-sectional and
longitudinal studies conducted in the U.S. (Dalton et al., 2003;
IOM (Institute of Medicine), 2007; Song et al., 2007) as well as
Germany (Hanewinkel and Sargent, 2007; Hanewinkel and
Sargent, 2008) have assessed such exposure and have found a
strong, independent association with smoking onset. Other
studies in U.S. adolescents have linked smoking onset with
smoking status of the adolescent's favourite Hollywood star
(Distefan et al., 2004). The amount of television viewing in
There has been some systematic analysis of tobacco imagery
on television includingthe U.S. (Christenson et al., 2000; Hazan
and Glantz, 1995; Long et al., 2002), Japan (Kanda et al., 2006;
Sone, 1999), New Zealand (McGee and Ketchel, 2006), and
Germany (Hanewinkel and Wiborg,2007). One detailed content
analysis of MTV's reality show The Osbournes shown in many
countries indicated that television could deliver numerous
messages related to substance use, with more depictions
implying endorsement than rejection of use (Blair et al., 2005).
The present study was designed to examine the prevalence of
period from 1985 to 2004. Within this time frame in Germany
outdoor, point-of-sale, and cinema advertising of tobacco
products was allowed, and ads were only forbidden in television
and radio. Sponsorship of cultural and sports events (e.g.
In Germany there are several free-to-air television channels, including
national and regional channels. The two main national state channels are Das
Erste and Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF). One very popular crime series is
“Ein Fall für Zwei“ (“A case for two”), which has been broadcasted since 1981
Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
Preventive Medicine 46 (2008) 596–598
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (R. Hanewinkel).
0091-7435/$ - see front matter © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
by the ZDF. Every episode of this series is 60 min long. According to a rating of
the “Voluntary Self-Control of the Film Business” (“Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle
der Filmwirtschaft”, FSK) “A case for two” is appropriate for an audience aged
12 years or older and also for children between 6 and 11 years when accom-
panied by a parent.
From 1985 to the end of 2004 190 episodes have been broadcasted. We
randomly selected five episodes per year, which equals 52.6% of the entire
was a mean of 9.6 Million spectators per episode (SD: 3.6). The German
populationis about82millions inhabitants.Accordingtothe ZDF,the serieswas
internationally distributed to 59 countries, amongst them Italy, Finland, France,
Categories of the content analysis
The appearance of one or more scenes containing smoking was coded for
each episode of the series — termed smoking occurrence. A smoking
occurrence is defined as handling or using tobacco. Not included were someone
talking about tobacco, imagery of vending machines, signs billboards and
posters, packets of cigarettes, ashtrays, cigarette lighters, and any other related
tobacco products including nicotine replacement products.
In addition, the number of smoking occurrences was counted. A smoking
occurrence was counted whenever a major or minor character handled or used
tobacco in a scene or when smoking was depicted in the background (e.g.
“extras” smoking in a bar scene). Occurrences were counted irrespective of the
scene's duration or how many times the tobacco product appeared during the
scene. This coding system applied has been also used in other studies in the field
prior to the present study (Dalton et al., 2002).
The ZDF provided us with a detailed list of all major and minor characters in
the 100 episodes. This allowed us to calculate the percentage of smoking
characters per episode.
Five coders, three students from the University of Kiel and two media
scientists were selected to conductthe content analysis. Interrater agreement was
evaluated on the basis of six episodes of the series. The coders agreed 100%
regarding whether a major or minor character used tobacco. With regard to the
number of occurrences per episode the coders agreed 98%.
To avoid having to make assumptions about the specific relationship
between smoking levels and time, we used STATA's lowess (locally weighted
scatter plot) smoothed method, a nonparametric method that does not require
assuming a specific functional form for the curve, with the bandwidth parameter
set to 0.80.
Smoking occurrences were found in 97 of the 100 episodes.
A total of 517 occurrences were counted (Mean 5.17 (SD=4.4);
Median=5; Range: 0–34).
Fig. 1 presents the number of smoking occurrences per
episode. Because each episode is 60 min, the values shown are
number of smoking occurrences per hour.The fit shows a steady
downwardtrend insmoking levels from 6.0occurrences in1985
(SD=1.1), to a minimum of about 2.4 (SD=0.9) occurrences in
1994, increasing to 5.0 occurrences in 2004 (SD=1.2).
A total of 1013 major or minor characters had a role in the
100 episodes of the series. From the sample 173 characters
smoked, which is a percentage of 17.1 (SD=11.8).
Fig. 2 presents the percentage of smoking characters per
episode over 20 years. The fit shows a steady downward trend
in smoking levels from a mean of 23.4% smoking characters in
1985 (SD=7.3), to a minimum of about 7.2% (SD=3.2)
smoking characters in 1995, increasing to 24.5% (SD=4.3)
smoking characters in 2004.
Nearly every episode (97%) of a popular prime-time series
shown on German state television and TV channels in other 59
countries included at least one scene with smoking occurrences,
defined conservatively as active smoking or handling of tobacco
products. Over the 20 year period from 1985 to 2004 data
indicate a decline in smoking occurrences and characters
smoking in this series in the first decade, but an increase in the
It is difficult to compare these figures with other studies in
the field, because the appearance of smoking varies with the
genre of the television programming (Hanewinkel and Wiborg,
2007). Studies from the U.S. suggest about 1.20 “tobacco
Fig. 1. SmokingoccurrencesperhourintheGermancrimeserial“Acasefortwo”,
1985–2004. Note: Curve: fitted values; grey hatching: 95% confidence interval.
Fig. 2. Smoking prevalence (percentage) of major and minor characters of the
German crime serial “A case for two”, 1985–2004. Note: Curve: fitted values;
grey hatching: 95% confidence interval.
597R. Hanewinkel, G. Wiborg / Preventive Medicine 46 (2008) 596–598
events” in dramas per hour (Hazan and Glantz, 1995), and one Download full-text
“smoking act” per hour in prime-time television (Christenson
et al., 2000). In Japanese dramas 4.22 smoking acts per hour
occurred (Sone, 1999), and about two scenes in New Zealand's
TV containing such imagery for every hour of programming
(McGee and Ketchel, 2006). With a mean of 5.17 smoking
occurrences per hour, the popular German crime series contains
more smoking than television programming from other
countries. U.S. studies reveal a 2.5% television prime-time
smoking in major and minor characters over all genres (Long
et al., 2002). The average percentage of 17.1 major and minor
characters smoking in the German crime series is substantially
This study has a number of strengths among them the long
time period studied, the random selection of the episodes, and
the excellent interrater agreement. The selection of only one
series has the advantage of a high internal validity of the study.
The major limitation of the study is that a generalisation to other
series or television is not possible. Therefore, no conclusions
can be made as to whether smoking in such a television program
is detectably influential. Nevertheless, it seems noteworthy that
the U curve of exposure is mirrored by smoking trends in
German youth, which was 25% in 1985, 20% in 1993, and 23%
in 2004 amongst 12 to 17 years olds (Federal Centre for Health
One way of controlling the smoking epidemic is to prevent
the youth from taking up the behaviour. Adolescents initiate
smoking for social reasons, and the social risk factors include
influences such as friends', siblings', and parents' smoking.
Tobacco marketing is also linked with youth smoking, and this
serves as the basis for control on smoking marketing contained
in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, in
which Article 13 recognizes that a comprehensive ban on
tobacco marketing would reduce consumption. However, a
comprehensive ban on tobacco marketing would not limit other
mass media venues from projecting favourable images of
smoking, such as smoking contained in television programming
and motion pictures, which is increasingly recognized as an
important contributor to the smoking epidemic (Wellman et al.,
2006). A recent German study concluded, after controlling other
risk factors, that adolescents in North Germany most exposed to
the smoking in Hollywood movies were twice as likely to
initiate smoking than those least exposed (Hanewinkel and
Sargent, 2007, 2008).
Given the evidence that smoking in movies strongly impacts
childhood and early smoking initiation in the U.S. and abroad
(Germany), leading U.S. advocates promote an R-rating (no
cinema admission to persons under the age of 17 without a
parent or guardian) of all movies portraying smoking (Glantz,
2003). The expectation is that an R-rating would substantially
reduce exposure and subsequent adolescent smoking initiation.
Another approach is to mandate the appearance of counter-
advertising spots to precede films that include smoking at
cinemas, on rentals, and TV (Edwards et al., 2007). More
research is needed to determine if such counter-advertising
might help to mitigate the adverse impact of movie smoking on
We wish to thank Catharina Banneck, Lars Grabbe, Patrick
Kruse, Asja Maass, Christa Panzlaff, James D. Sargent, Bilge
Sayim, and Björn Sülter for their support with the content
analysis and data preparation.
This study was financed by the Ministry of Health of the
Federal Republic of Germany. The ZDF (Zweites Deutsches
Fernsehen) generously provided us with video-taped copies of
the episodes used in this study.
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