Netflix has pledged to stub out cigarettes in any programme that’s aimed at a young audience.
The streaming giant came under fire this week with a new report highlighting a rise in depictions of tobacco on TV shows for young people.
The report, published by Truth Initiative (formerly Legacy – an anti-smoking group funded through a 1998 agreement between big tobacco and US states – found that 12 of the 13 TV shows most popular with the 15-24 demo show smoking prominently. The organisation cites figures from the Office of the Surgeon General that show young people with the most exposure to movies featuring smoking are approximately twice as likely to begin smoking as those with the least exposure.
TV shows highlighted by Truth Initiative for depicting tobacco usage or tobacco imagery include Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, ABC’s Modern Family and FX’s American Horror Story.
“Content has become the new tobacco commercial,” Robin Koval, CEO of Truth Initiative, said in a statement. “We’re seeing a pervasive reemergence of smoking imagery across screens that is glamorising and re-normalizing a deadly addiction and putting young people squarely in the crosshairs of the tobacco industry.”
Overall, Truth Initiative’s findings show that depictions of tobacco have surged almost fourfold in the past year. The worst offender, though, was Season 2 of Netflix’s Stranger Things. The sophomore run saw a 44 per cent increase in smoking depictions from its first run, rising from 182 to 262.
Other Netflix shows popular with younger viewers also saw increases in tobacco depictions in their latest seasons, including Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4 (292 tobacco depictions, up from nine), Orange Is the New Black Season 6 (233 tobacco depictions, up from 45) and House of Cards Season 6 (54 tobacco depictions, up from 41).
Netflix has responded by saying that all new shows it commissions with a rating of TV-14 or lower, and all original films rated PG-13 or lower, will exclude smoking and e-cigarette use, apart from instances required for “historical or factual accuracy”.
The streamer also said other new projects will not depict smoking or e-cigarette use unless it’s “essential to the creative vision of the artist or because it’s character-defining (historically or culturally important)”.
“Netflix strongly supports artistic expression,” a spokesperson told Variety. “We also recognize that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people.”