Tobacco's Starring Role
March 23, 2023

Truth’s Latest Streaming Report Shows Tobacco’s Starring Role in Media Popular Among Young People

Truth Initiative® – the national public health organization dedicated to achieving a culture where young people reject smoking, vaping and nicotine – released their newest report “While You Were Streaming: Tobacco's Starring Role” exploring tobacco imagery in entertainment popular among young people. The report is a collaboration between Truth Initiative and partners: NORC at the University of Chicago, a nonpartisan and objective research organization; Breathe California, a California non-profit dedicated to clean air and lung health; and UCSF’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, a focal point for research, education, and public service at the University of California San Francisco. The research team responsible for this report has deep interdisciplinary knowledge of tobacco control and media and is committed to removing depictions of tobacco in programming popular among young people.  In this blog post, we introduce Jessica Rath, Vice President at Truth Initiative Schroeder Institute®, who summarized key insights from the report in this co-authored blog post. 

Tobacco depictions pervade popular streaming shows, movies and music among young people

This latest report, “While You Were Streaming: Tobacco's Starring Role,” is Truth Initiative’s fifth annual analysis of tobacco in media popular among 15- to 24-year-olds, including 2021’s 15 most popular streaming shows (including most binge-watched shows), movies and music videos among this age group. Topline findings from the report from Truth Initiative’s Executive Summary include:

  • 60% of young people’s 15 favorite shows featured tobacco imagery, which shows no change from 2020, and these shows exposed roughly 25 million young people to tobacco depictions.
  • Netflix, previously a top offender for tobacco depictions, had notable reductions in tobacco depictions, however youth-popular Stranger Things continues to include tobacco imagery despite Netflix’s 2019 pledge to remove tobacco depictions from youth-rated programming.
  • Top offender, Showtime’s Shameless, had more than twice the number of tobacco depictions from the previous season.
  • Nearly half (47%) of top newly released 2021 movies had tobacco depictions, including 17 youth-rated films (e.g., The Girl Who Believed in Miracles (PG)) according to analyses from NORC.
  • 12.8% of the top 2021 Billboard songs featured tobacco depictions in their music videos, which is a significant reduction from 23% in 2020.

These highlights show young people’s almost constant exposure to tobacco imagery while 2022 data shows more than 2.5 million middle and high schoolers in the U.S. report vaping. Research shows a clear connection between exposure to tobacco in media and vaping initiation as well as smoking initiation, which reinforces the need for ongoing action to eliminate the longstanding normalization and glamorization of smoking and vaping in media. Truth Initiative encourages urgent action among the entertainment industry to address the ongoing public health epidemic of tobacco on screens, including:

  • Expanding education, outreach, and research activities to inform the public, parents, and members of the entertainment industry about the need to eliminate tobacco from programming.
  • Running successful anti-tobacco and anti-vaping ads before and during shows that feature tobacco imagery.
  • Encouraging content developers and distributors to create and publicly share broad anti-tobacco policies.
  • Certifying that the film industry accepts no tobacco industry payoffs for including tobacco depictions in a show.
  • Providing tax and other incentives only to those productions that do not contain tobacco use.

See the full report “While You Were Streaming: Tobacco's Starring Role,Action Needed: Tobacco in Pop Culture, and Smoking in Films 2021 for more information.

Free resources to help

Truth Initiative provides support and resources designed specifically for young people to help them quit e-cigarette use through its award-winning and lifesaving nationally recognized truth® campaign. Over 500,000 youth and young adults have enrolled in This is Quitting—a free and anonymous text message quit vaping program for teens and young adults from truth. A recent clinical trial shows This Is Quitting increased e-cigarette quit vaping rates by nearly 40% among young adults aged 18-24 compared to a control group. Teens and young adults can text “DITCHVAPE” to 88709 to get immediate help to quit. truth also offers a free, comprehensive digital curriculum, Vaping: Know the truth, that gives students the facts about the health dangers of e-cigarettes and the help they need to quit. Parents and educators can learn more about the curriculum at: Young people can access free resources at

To download the full report and for more information on our research and resources, please visit