Netflix has responded to a new report that found its depictions of smoking tripled last year by pledging to eliminate smoking in all TV programming rated TV-14 and below or PG-13 and under for movies. The pledge comes just one day after the premiere of “Stranger Things,” the streamer’s most popular show, which is singled out in the report as one of the top three offenders in onscreen portrayals of cigarette smoking. The top two are “Orange Is the New Black” and “Fuller House,” oddly enough.
“Netflix strongly supports artistic expression. We also recognize that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “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 report was commissioned by anti-tobacco watchdog group The Truth Initiative, which points to multiple findings that young people are much more likely to start smoking if they see their favorite characters doing it on TV. 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. For the second year in a row, Netflix was named the worst offender, with its depictions of tobacco use nearly tripling in the last year.
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. However, 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. Adult programming will not have such tight restrictions, but creators will have to justify their choices.
“For new projects with higher ratings, 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),” said the Netflix spokesperson. “In addition, starting later this year, smoking information will be included as part of our ratings on the Netflix service so our members can make informed choices about what they watch.”