Why Does Netflix Show More Smoking Than Cable TV?

Photo: Netflix.
A recent study found that Netflix’s original series depict more than twice as many instances of smoking than other cable TV shows popular with young people.
The study, conducted by anti-smoking group the Truth Initiative, cited 319 “tobacco incidents” when researchers analyzed the streaming service’s top shows of 2015-2016. While some of the shows with the highest number of tobacco-related scenes were Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards, which are rated TV-MA for mature audiences, the top offender was actually the first season of Stranger Things, with a total of 182 scenes involving smoking. Shockingly, given that it is marketed as a family friendly show, Fuller House came in fifth place; that makes Netflix take four of the top five offenders’ spots.
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The Truth Initiative focused its efforts on shows most popular in the 15-24-year-old age demographic, asserting that streaming platforms can work against the progress network television and films made to decrease depictions of tobacco use.
“A pervasive reemergence of smoking across screens that is glamorizing and renormalizing a deadly habit to millions of impressionable young people,” Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, said in a statement Variety shared. On Friday, the watchdog group posted its findings on their website. “Well-documented movie research shows that youth and young adults with high exposure to tobacco imagery are twice as likely to begin smoking as those with less,” their post reads. The Truth Initiative also cited research which states that 37 percent of youth smoking initiation in the U.S. can be attributed to exposure to smoking in movies.
Netflix isn’t the only streaming service with this problem. Shows on Amazon and Hulu also had higher rates of smoking than broadcast or cable TV shows. This becomes more troubling when coupled with statistics that show more young people consume content through streaming services than traditional television. What responsibility do streaming services have to their young viewers? Sure, some of the shows with the highest depictions of smoking are already rated to suggest an older audience; however, shows like Stranger Things and Fuller House are marketed to a younger audience.
Netflix responded to the study saying, “While streaming entertainment in more popular than ever, we’re glad that smoking is not. We’re interested to find out more about the study.” The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) added smoking as a factor to their rating system over a decade ago. Perhaps, streaming services will consider something similar going forward.
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