Netflix promises to decrease the amount of smoking and tobacco use depicted in their original productions, such as Stranger Things. The most recent seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Fuller House, had much higher rates of cigarette appearances than seasons prior. The streaming giant has decided to take action against recent claims that its content is causing a surge of smoking in younger audiences.
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Don Draper in Mad Men, and Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City are prominent examples of the act of smoking being glamorized in film and TV shows. In 1971, Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned cigarette ads on TV and radio, however, the protagonists and antagonists of programs continued to light up onscreen to enhance the ambiance and embellish character. Founded in 1999, Truth Initiative is a tobacco control organization that's best known for its youth smoking prevention campaign. Recently, the anti-smoking platform claimed that popular TV shows are re-normalizing tobacco use and implicitly encouraging young people to smoke. A report titled “While You Were Streaming”, states that Netflix’s show Stranger Things is the top smoking offender. A season 1 study of the popular supernatural drama found 182 scenes with smoking or images of cigarettes.
Regarding tobacco depictions - which may also include a cigar in an ashtray or pack of cigarettes in a store - the study confirmed 1,209 instances during the 2016-17 TV season. A staggering 866 of those belong to the streaming giant. Moving forward, Netflix has decided to snuff out the issue. According to Deadline, Netflix has claimed that beginning later this year, original content with ratings of TV-14 or below will be smoking and e-cigarette free. However, exceptions will be made for historical or factual accuracy. Series and films pertaining to older viewers will be allotted more wiggle room as Netflix stated, “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.” Smoking information will be attached with ratings so viewers can take necessary precautions.
The Truth Initiative report focused on shows most popular with viewers between the ages of 15 and 24. Even though Netflix held the top spots, tobacco imagery was also found in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Walking Dead, Modern Family, and American Horror Story. Overall, researchers calculate that approximately 28 million young people were exposed to tobacco through streaming programs and cable television.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 1,300 deaths per day related to diseases from cigarette smoking. It's a widely known fact that younger audiences are impressionable and often imitate what they view. Films and TV can still be artistically expressive and wildly successful while limiting the marketing of smoking. Netflix taking appropriate measures to prevent the appearance of being a tobacco advocate displays the streaming service is paying attention to concerned viewers. While most of the original series mentioned in the report are ending this year, it'll be interesting to see Netflix’s new smoking policies put in place.