Netflix Youth
June 9, 2022

Holding Netflix Accountable: Tobacco Use Infiltrates Youth-Appealing Programs Despite 2019 Pledge

In 2019 Netflix told Variety that they would exclude smoking and e-cigarette use from TV-14 programming and films rated PG-13 and lower in Netflix original programming (with the exception of cases of “historical or factual accuracy”) and that they would reduce tobacco use depictions in programming in general. This pledge from Netflix came after the release of Truth Initiative’s 2019 While You Were Streaming report, which showed that Netflix’s Stranger Things Seasons 1 and 2 featured the most tobacco of all coded programming (100% of episodes had tobacco), and Netflix programming tripled its tobacco use depictions between 2015 and 2017. Truth Initiative’s 2022 While You Were Streaming: Nicotine on Demand report also noted that Stranger Things Season 3 (released in 2019) had four times more tobacco use depictions (721 incidences total) than Season 1.

Three years following Netflix’s pledge, imagery of tobacco products and use continues to appear in Stranger Things with 38 tobacco incidences in Stranger Things Season 4 Episodes 1 and 2 (released on May 27, 2022), according to data coded by Breathe California. Truth’s 2022 While You Were Streaming report also showed Netflix programming from 2020 contained the most tobacco, with top youth-appealing shows, like Umbrella Academy, even increasing their tobacco use depictions compared with earlier seasons.  

In response to Netflix’s continued tobacco depictions in programming, Truth Initiative penned a letter signed by Tobacco Free Screens Coalition partners urging Netflix to keep their pledge to remove tobacco imagery from content that appeals to youth and expressing disappointment with the lack of progress Netflix has made in realizing their pledge (sent June 6, 2022). The letter cites the well-established link between tobacco imagery in film and television and youth tobacco use along with data from Truth Initiative’s reports on tobacco imagery in Netflix programming. The letter includes two specific requests of Netflix. First, that Netflix have a written policy on its portrayal of tobacco in programming and that this policy be published on their website. Second, that Netflix meet with Tobacco Free Screens Coalition partners to talk about the influence of tobacco portrayals on youth tobacco and nicotine use and how Netflix will implement policies to eliminate onscreen tobacco portrayals in youth-appealing content.

The letter to Netflix is signed by the following Tobacco Free Screens Coalition partners: Action on Smoking and Health, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, Breathe California Sacramento Region, BC Alliance for Health Living, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, CommonSpirit Health, Poway Unified School District, Public Health Law Center, Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment, San Diego County Office of Education, Tobacco Free Portfolios, Trinity Health, Truth Initiative, UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Stanton A. Glantz, Cheryl Healton, James Sargent, and James Thrasher.