Netflix has pledged to reduce the number of occasions where actors use tobacco products in its original programmes, after a study suggested that smoking on the streaming service’s programmes had contributed to a rise in on-screen smoking more widely.
The US-based anti-smoking group Truth Initiative said tobacco imagery was increasing on small screens and that depictions were much more common on streaming services than on cable television.
Netflix, in response to the study, promised to exclude smoking in original shows aimed at young people, except for “reasons of historical or factual accuracy”.
The company said all its new programmes, regardless of their content ratings, would not depict smoking “unless it’s essential to the creative vision of the artist or because it’s character-defining – historically or culturally important.”
It added: “Netflix strongly supports artistic expression. We also recognise that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people.”
The Truth Initiative, in an analysis of instances of smoking on TV shows, said: “Smoking on the small screen has gone from common to nearly unavoidable.”
The report found that the sci-fi horror Stranger Things had 182 instances of smoking in its first season and 262 in the second, while the prison drama Orange Is The New Black had 45 tobacco depictions in its 2015-16 season and 233 in the following season.
The group said: “While smoking in TV programmes has not been studied as extensively as tobacco imagery in movies, it is reasonable to conclude a similar harmful impact is possible.
“The popularity of streaming combined with the pervasive rise of smoking in episodic content points to an emerging threat to a new generation.”
Across programmes aimed at young people, there were 42 “tobacco depictions” in US programmes with youth ratings during 2015-16. However, that figure rose 379% to 201 instances, according to the report.
Rival streaming service Amazon Prime Video’s award-winning comedy The Marvelous Mrs Maisel portrays characters smoking throughout its two seasons, while Hulu’s Gap Year features a character who frequently smokes.
The report recommended that all producers of video content, regardless of which streaming service, should eliminate tobacco depictions in its future programmes aimed at young people.
Robin Koval, the CEO of Truth Initiative, said: “Content has become the new tobacco commercial. We’re seeing a pervasive reemergence of smoking imagery across screens that is glamorising and re-normalising a deadly addiction and putting young people squarely in the crosshairs of the tobacco industry.”