Smoking is on the rise – at least it is on TV, according to a report from Truth Initiative, which has been tracking on-screen depictions of smoking and found a drastic increase between 2018 and 2019.
The number one offender? Netflix. The streaming giant has depicted a whopping 866 instances of smoking so far in 2019, compared with 299 the previous year.
Truth Initiative estimates that around 28 million young people watched this content (though Netflix, as always, rarely releases numbers). Although most millennials and Gen Z kids were taught from a young age that smoking kills, seeing it that consistently and not in an explicitly negative light can have damaging effects.
In some cases, as with Stranger Things, smoking was authentic to the time period; up until the 1990s it was allowed in most public places, including aircraft (American smoking peaked in 1963 if you were wondering about the accuracy of Mad Men).
Since online streaming has become many viewers’ primary source of consuming film and television, Netflix and other platforms have a different responsibility in producing original content than it did even several years ago (when another smoking-heavy show, Orange is the New Black, made its debut). Netflix has previously responded to other studies about the impact of its content, as with reports associating 13 Reasons Why with suicide and suicidal thoughts.
A Netflix spokesperson issued a statement to Entertainment Weekly with a pledge to change things moving forward.
Netflix strongly supports artistic expression. We also recognize that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people. 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. 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). 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.
Stranger Things 3 also portrays Jim Hopper, a smoker, as on the cusp of becoming an alcoholic, not to mention terrifying anger management issues that cause him to yell at El, lie to Mike, and beat the shit out of multiple people. But those depictions are safe for now, whew!
Stranger Things 3 is now streaming on Netflix.