Anti-Smoking Backlash Prompts Netflix to Tone Down Tobacco Use in Original Series

Over the past several years there’s been a cultural shift when it comes to smoking. Where once it was common for people to smoke in restaurants, on planes, and in other public places, it's less so now as the risks and dangers of smoking have become better understood. However, one place where smoking still has some prominence is in entertainment, but that is changing as well. Netflix is now pledging to tone down tobacco use in its original programming after being found to have some of the most depictions of smoking in a recent study.

According to Deadline, in an update to its 2018 "While You Were Streaming" study, Truth Initiative found 1,209 total depictions of tobacco use in episodic programming in the 2016-2017 season. Of those, 866 were on Netflix. Of those Netflix-specific numbers, 292 were on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 262 on Stranger Things, and 233 on Orange Is the New Black. The report does note that the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt numbers were elevated due to scenes taking place in a store that featured a wall of cigarette products, otherwise the show would have had only 9 depictions.)

"Content has become the new tobacco commercial," Robin Koval, CEO/president of Truth Initiative, said in a statement. "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."

After the report came out, Netflix responded by saying they will work to reduce smoking images and depictions in their original programming, save for where it's used for historical or factual accuracy.

"Going forward, all new projects that we commission with ratings of TV-14 or below for series or PG-13 or below for films, will be smoking and e-cigarette free -- except for reasons of historical or factual accuracy," the statement reads.

As for programming geared towards 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.)"


What the functional definition of "historically or culturally important" will actually look like, though, remains to be seen. Stranger Things, for example, is one of the shows which tallied a large number of tobacco use depictions, but the show is set in the 1980s -- a decade when smoking was still common in various aspects of life. Inflight smoking on commercial domestic flights with a duration of two hours or less, for example, wasn't banned until 1988 and smoking wasn't completely banned on all commercial flights until 2000. And, if changes are made for how Stranger Things depicts smoking, they won't happen right away. Season Three of the popular series debuts on Thursday.

What do you think about Netflix's pledge to reduce depictions of smoking? Let us know in the comments below.