Netflix's Curb on Smoking Onscreen Doesn't Appear to Apply to Weed

Earlier this year, Netflix pledged to reduce cigarette smoking images and depictions in original programming, but the same hasn't been true for depictions of marijuana use. Smoking weed is still showing up in programming aimed at general audiences and it has some questioning why.

As noted by NPR, the use of marijuana doesn't appear to be subject to Netflix's smoking restrictions. They specifically note the series On My Block. Rated TV-14, exactly the same as Stranger Things -- the series that was specifically called out in a Truth Initiative study for its heavy depiction of tobacco use -- On My Block opens with a scenes of high school kids at a party in Los Angeles doing bong hits. PG-13 rated film Always Be My Maybe also featured a main character smoking weed. The seeming message of marijuana usage being "ok" while smoking is not is one that professor of medicine at University of California San Francisco told NPR is problematic, in part because despite being seen as relatively safe, marijuana is not harmless.

"Rating a film for 14 year olds that's promoting substance abuse -- it's like the peak of risk," Glantz said.

"Marijuana is not harmless," he continued. "Secondhand marijuana smoke has the same kind of adverse effects on your blood vessels that smoking a cigarette does. Chemically it's not all that different from cigarette smoke, except that the psychoactive agent is different."

In a statement regarding the update to the 2018 "While You Were Streaming" study, Truth Initiative CEO/president Robin Koval noted that part of what made the depictions of smoking so problematic is how it "glamorizes" it for young viewers.

"Content has become the new tobacco commercial," Koval said. "We're seeing a pervasive reemergence of smoking imagery across screens that is glamorizing and re-normalizing a deadly addiction and putting young people squarely in the crosshairs of the tobacco industry."

It's that normalization and glamorization that Glantz is concerned about regarding marijuana -- especially with marijuana becoming increasingly decriminalized nationwide, something that could lead to widespread product placement in entertainment. His hope? That Netflix will adopt a marijuana policy similar to its tobacco policy based on roughly the same information.


"And Netflix ought to be adopting a policy that, you know, is not only based on the bombproof science we have on tobacco," he says, "but brings common sense into the discussion for these other exposures."

What do you think? Is the depiction of marijuana use for general audience entertainment as problematic as the depiction of tobacco use? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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