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Does Netflix really glamourise smoking?

A recent study shows a worrying trend of increased tobacco use in streaming shows popular with young adults.

IS NETFLIX NORMALIZING smoking? That’s what an anti-smoking group Truth Initiative says in While You Were Streaming, their most recent report into tobacco images on TV.

Source: Netflix

The study examined 14 television shows that were most popular with Americans aged 15-24, which is the age group most likely to begin smoking. The Truth Initiative’s study found that 79 per cent of these shows depict smoking prominently, with nearly 500 depictions of tobacco. The seven Netlifx shows (Stranger Things, Orange is the new Black, House of Cards, Fuller House, Making a Murderer, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Pretty Little Liars) contained more smoking incidents (319) than the seven cable television shows (139). Source: Truth Initiative/ USA Today On Netflix, the worst offender by a significant margin was Stranger Things, with 182 scenes depicting smoking or images with cigarettes in the eight-episode first season of the critically acclaimed supernatural drama. The Walking Dead, a cable TV show, finished second place with 94 depictions of smoking, with Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and House of Cards coming in at third and fourth with 45 and 41 images respectively. The representation of smoking onscreen in shows is significant as people with more exposure to tobacco in movies are twice as likely to begin smoking compared with those with less exposure, according to the 2014 U.S Department of Health report on smoking. Nearly 90% of cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18, and 99% first tried by age 26.

Source: AMC

So, between the increased popularity and ubiquity of streaming content amongst young adults and the growing trend of exposure of cigarettes in streaming shows, could this mean a rise in young people taking up smoking? Yes, says Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, who spoke to Variety on Friday:

(There has been) a pervasive reemergence of smoking across screens that is glamorizing and renormalizing a deadly habit to millions of impressionable young people

Robin and her colleagues were anticipating to see more smoking on streaming shows because Netflix do not have advertisers to answer to and have less restrictions on their content. However, Robin added that:

We expected to see quite a bit of smoking, but the magnitude of what we saw was shocking.

Truth Initiative outlined actions that can tackle the issue, including working with producers to exclude tobacco imagery from shows and enforcing stricter parental-guideline ratings for content that includes tobacco use. When asked for a response to the Truth Initiative’s findings, Netflix said:

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.

Oscars: Smoking Hot

A separate study found a growing trend of cigarette images in movies. Of the 2018 Oscar nominated films, 86 percent features smoking, up from 60 percent four years ago. Of the kid-rated films on the 2018 Oscar list, twice as many as feature smoking as last year.

So what do you think?

Do entertainment companies have a particular responsibility to address public health concerns, such as smoking?


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