Netflix’s original series depict the highest instances of characters smoking on any television show, according to a recent study by anti-tobacco watchdog group The Truth Initiative. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are not beholden to the same content restrictions as broadcast television, leading to more instances of sex, violence, swearing, and tobacco use. While some viewers may enjoy the extra skin and gore, the anti-tobacco group points to multiple findings that young people are much more likely to start smoking if they see their favorite characters doing it on TV.
“We’ve experienced a pervasive re-emergence of smoking imagery that is glamorizing and re-normalizing a deadly habit to millions of impressionable young people. It has to stop,” said Truth Initiative CEO Robin Koval in a press release.
The study compared seven Netflix shows to seven broadcast and cable shows from the 2015-16 season, finding the Netflix group had 319 “smoking incidents,” compared to 139 on broadcast and cable. The Emmy-winning hit “Stranger Things” was the worst offender, with 182 smoking incidents. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” came in second place, with the next four slots going to Netflix shows “Orange Is the New Black,” “House of Cards,” “Fuller House,” and “Making a Murderer.”
The 14 shows in the Truth Initiative study were chosen for being the most popular with young people, aged 15-24.
“While streaming entertainment is more popular than ever, we’re glad that smoking is not. We’re interested to find out more about the study,” a Netflix representative told Variety.
According to the Surgeon General, people with more exposure to tobacco in movies are twice as likely to begin smoking compared to those with less exposure. Under pressure from Truth Initiative in 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America added smoking as a factor in assigning film ratings, along with sex, violence, and swearing.