Netflix Vows to Curb Onscreen Smoking Amid 'Stranger Things' Criticism

Stranger Things S03 Still 14 - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix says it will cut back on depictions of smoking in its shows in the wake of a report that called out the streamer for the number of instances in which characters use tobacco in shows like Stranger Things.

"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," a Netflix spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter. "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)."

The Truth Initiative, a nonprofit public health organization working to eliminate tobacco use, released a report last week that calculated the use of tobacco in 13 shows across broadcast, cable and streaming services.

The study found that, for a second consecutive year, Netflix "topped the list with nearly triple the number of tobacco instances (866) compared with the prior year (299)."

The study continued: "Smoking on the small screen has gone from common to nearly unavoidable, as popular programs like Stranger Things, [Netflix's] Orange Is the New Black and [ABC's] Modern Family increasingly show images of tobacco and portray characters who smoke."

"For both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, episodic programming on Netflix had a greater total number of tobacco depictions than programs aired on broadcast or cable TV, with Stranger Things continuing to show the most tobacco overall," the report continued. "Researchers found that 100 percent of Stranger Things episodes coded included tobacco."

In response, Netflix said it will start featuring information about tobacco use in the ratings boxes included with each show "so our members can make informed choices about what they watch."

Other shows called out in the report included Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Hulu's Gap Year, though those weren't included in the study.