Shortly after the highly-anticipated release of Stranger Things season three, Netflix has pledged to reduce smoking onscreen in new programs they commission. And while the pledge won’t affect future seasons of Stranger Things or other existing original productions by the streaming giant, Eleven and the rest of the Hawkins gang were indirectly involved in the decision — the anti-tobacco use group Truth Initiative released findings earlier in the week from a study of onscreen tobacco usage and, in their report, the group suggested that “100% of Stranger Things episodes coded included tobacco.”
Two other Netflix series, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Orange Is the New Black, were also named in the study, titled While You Were Streaming: Tobacco Use Sees a Renormalization in On-Demand Digital Content, Diluting Progress in Broadcast & Theaters. The report also alleges that depictions of tobacco in popular TV shows watched by young people surged nearly fourfold in the last year. In all fairness, the Truth Initiative records every instance a tobacco product appears. So, even if cigarettes pop up on a background billboard or a scene takes place near a bodega, it’s flagged as an example of tobacco usage (even if no tobacco products are smoked). In any case, Netflix is committed to making salient changes to new original programs 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,” a Netflix spokesperson told EW in a statement.
In a statement released by the Truth Initiative, CEO/President Robin Koval addressed the organization’s concerns, explaining, “Content has become the new tobacco commercial. We’re seeing a pervasive reemergence of smoking imagery across screens that is glamorizing and re-normalizing a deadly addiction and putting young people squarely in the crosshairs of the tobacco industry.”
Netflix wasn’t the only programming provider named in the Truth Initiative’s report, either. The organization referenced tobacco imagery in series such as Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, ABC’s Once Upon a Time and FX’s American Horror Story. Per the Office of the Surgeon General, this pattern is problematic because young people with the most exposure to smoking depiction are twice as likely to start smoking.