As the first and largest subscription streaming video service in the world, Netflix has many targets on its back. The latest: smoking cigarettes on TV shows.
The SVOD behemoth has vowed to scale back images of characters smoking on its original TV shows after an anti-smoking group found Netflix streamed more images of tobacco use than TV broadcasters — especially on content targeting younger viewers.
Truth Initiative, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public health organization, analyzed 400 programs and 350 hours of content tracking tobacco use on Netflix and broadcast TV from the 2016-17 season, and compared it with a 2018 report that tracked the 2015-16 season.
The group found that images of smoking on Netflix increased from the 2018 report to 2019 by 176% overall and by 379% on youth-rated programs with more than 200 tobacco incidents observed in programs rated TV-Y7 and TV-PG.
The report found Netflix nearly tripled the number of tobacco incidents (866) compared with the prior season (299).
Notably, Truth Initiative cited Netflix’s popular “Stranger Things,” as the worst offender. The show had a 44% increase in smoking from season one (182) to season two (262) and in its first two seasons, tobacco was depicted in every episode.
Other Netflix shows with tobacco use include: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — 292 tobacco depictions (up from 9 depictions); “Orange is the New Black” — 233 tobacco depictions (up from 45 depictions); and “House of Cards” — 54 tobacco depictions (up from 41 depictions).
“Content has become the new tobacco commercial,” Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, said in a statement. “We’re seeing a pervasive re-emergence of smoking imagery across screens that is glamorizing and renormalizing a deadly addiction and putting young people squarely in the crosshairs of the tobacco industry. Streaming, broadcast and cable companies are giving the tobacco industry free advertising and young people are paying the price.”
Indeed, the report found Netflix isn’t alone in its liberal use of tobacco images.
Amazon’s award-winning “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Hulu’s “Gap Year” also depict smoking. Tobacco incidences on broadcast and cable programming have dramatically increased as well showing nearly two and a half times (150%) more tobacco imagery than in 2018.
Top 2019 offenders on network TV, broadcast and cable include: ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” — 97 tobacco depictions (up from 0 depictions); FX’s “American Horror Story” — 88 tobacco depictions (up from 15 depictions); and “Modern Family” (ABC) – 79 tobacco depictions (up from 20 depictions)
In a statement, Netflix said that going forward smoking images on content targeting younger viewers would only be allowed for “reasons of historical or factual accuracy” or only be shown if “it’s essential to the creative vision of the artist or character-defining”.
“[We] strongly supports artistic expression [but] also recognize that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people,” said the SVOD service.