April 15, 2020

Streamers push smoking during a global pandemic



What is Hollywood Hiding? How the entertainment industry downplays the danger to kids from smoking on screen 

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As evidence builds that smoking and vaping contribute to COVID-19's virulence, a new UCSF survey of popular video-on-demand (VOD) services shows that young audiences migrating to these digital channels are dangerously exposed to tobacco promotion. Among the fresh findings:

     • More than half of TV-14 shows created by Netflix feature smoking, along with 72 percent of its original TV-MA shows.

     • Top-grossing movies — half with smoking — are now viewed fourteen times more often on digital media than in theaters, even before COVID-19.

     • Two of the nine VOD services surveyed now label some smoking, but no service warns parents that smoking on screen harms young viewers.

     • Disney+'s content notification, "Contains tobacco depictions," scores at the master's degree level on a common scale of readability.

     • VOD services bury official movie and TV ratings and suppress rating reasons, further degrading the information available to parents.

     • Parental controls tested on VOD services are largely unworkable: confusing, burdensome, and easy to cheat.

The report concludes with an expanded array of policy strategies, from federal oversight of product placement to giving parents the power to filter media titles with specific content, including tobacco imagery.

The report also follows up on the media industry's refusal to share child-safety data with U.S. Senators last year by demanding the companies report the age-composition of audiences for smoking media; how many subscribers use parental controls; and what ratings TV producers award to their own shows. (Yes, that's how TV ratings work.)


Extra-credit resources, including the Netflix show list and a guided tour of a typical video-on-demand app, can be found at

Are you outside the U.S.? Does your version of Netflix include "smoking" labels? Are the TV ratings different — teen instead of adult, for example? Test the included sample of original Netflix shows and share your observations with Jono Polansky at UCSF Smokefree Movies. Thank you!