Netflix Pledges To Cut Back On Smoking; ‘Stranger Things’ Among Top Offenders, Says New Study


Named in a new study for frequent depictions of cigarettes in youth-skewing series like Stranger Things and others, Netflix is vowing to stub out the practice, or at least curtail it, in new projects.

While committing itself to “artistic expression,” the streaming service responded to a new Truth Initiative study by recognizing “that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people” and by pledging that going forward all new commissioned projects with ratings of TV-14 or below for series (PG-13 or below for films) will be smoking and e-cigarette free “except for reasons of historical or factual accuracy.”

For new projects aimed at older viewers, “there’ll be no smoking or e-cigarettes unless it’s essential to the creative vision of the artist or because it’s character-defining (historically or culturally important).”

Netflix also vowed that, starting later this year, smoking information will be included as part of its age-appropriate ratings “so our members can make informed choices about what they watch.”

The pledge seems to provide plenty of wiggle room – why else would smoking be depicted unless it is considered “essential to the creative vision” or “character-defining”? – but the announcement at least acknowledges the Truth Initiative findings.

In an update to its 2018 study “While You Were Streaming,” Truth Initiative found 1,209 total “tobacco depictions” in episodic programming during the 2016-17 season, with a whopping 866 of those depictions on Netflix. That leaves the other 343 tobacco depictions studied to the other broadcast and cable programming combined. (“Depictions” included everything from cigarettes in an ashtray to packs on a store shelf, with about 54% of depictions featuring a cigarette in a character’s hand or mouth.)

Of Netflix’s 866 depictions, 292 were on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 262 on Stranger Things and 233 on Orange Is the New Black. The Kimmy Schmidt figure, though, probably deserves an asterisk – the huge increase from the previous study’s count of 9 for the series was due in large part to scenes in a store that featured a wall of cigarette products, according to the report.

The programs were not selected at random: Truth Initiative studied shows most popular with young people between 15 and 24 years old based on an online survey. Netflix shows studied included Orange is the New Black, Fuller House, Stranger Things, Daredevil, House of Cards and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Broadcast and cable shows (also based on popularity among young people) studied included The Big Bang Theory, The Walking Dead, Modern Family, American Horror Story, Bones, Once Upon a Time and Pretty Little Liars.

In all, the researchers found that onscreen tobacco depictions had increased over the previous season, and that approximately 28 million young people were exposed to tobacco through television and streaming programs just through these most popular shows alone. The report cites outside analysis estimating that exposure to tobacco use in movies is responsible for 37% of smoking initiation among young smokers.

While tobacco depictions were up, the study found that TV doesn’t seem to have picked up the E-cigarette habit, with the newer product accounting for less that 1% of tobacco depictions. But here again, Netflix was the primary offender, accounting for all depictions of e-cigarette use, including 10 on Fuller House, one on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and two on House of Cards.

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