Netflix Promises To Stop Showing Characters Smoking On Its Original Programming

Nearly all of the episodes of Season 2 of 'Stranger Things' showed tobacco use.

The Netflix logo on a laptop computer screen
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Nearly all of the episodes of Season 2 of 'Stranger Things' showed tobacco use.

Netflix will greatly reduce the amount of smoking it shows in its original programming, Variety reports, after a watchdog group complained that one of the streaming service’s most popular shows, whose audience consists largely of adolescents, showed smoking in nearly every episode of its most recent season.

The anti-smoking group Truth Initiative monitors TV and streaming shows for depictions of tobacco use, and it found that Netflix is one of the worst offenders. In fact, depictions of tobacco use are pretty rare on network TV, but on streaming services, it’s much more prevalent. On Netflix, for example, there are three times as many depictions of smoking as there are on network TV.

One show that depicts smoking the most has an audience that consists largely of adolescents. Stranger Things, whose third season drops on Thursday, is one of the worst offenders, according to Truth Initiative. In its second season, almost every episode depicted smoking, with a total of 262 depictions of tobacco use; that’s up from 182 in its first season.

Other Netflix shows popular among viewers aged 15-24, including some that are almost certainly intended only for adults, also have a number of depictions of tobacco use that the watchdog group finds alarming. Those shows include Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Orange Is the New Black, and House of Cards, only one of which (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is actually intended for a wide audience rather than just adults.

So prevalent are depictions of tobacco use on streaming services that Truth Initiative director Robin Koval says it’s “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,” she said.

To that end, Netflix says it will be dramatically decreasing the number of depictions of tobacco use it portrays on its original programming — to a point, anyway. For shows with ratings TV-14 or below (and all films rated PG-13 or below), it will eliminate depictions of tobacco use entirely, except for “reasons of historical or factual accuracy.”

For shows intended for a mature audience, the streaming service will try to cut back on depicting tobacco use “unless it’s essential to the creative vision of the artist or because it’s character-defining (historically or culturally important).” In original shows and movies in which tobacco use is depicted, it will be included with the other warnings it gives in its ratings, such as violence or mature language.