“Stranger Things,” the hit Neflix Kid television show, contains 182 scenes featuring characters smoking cigarettes, leading to charges by a U.S. health group the network is fronting for tobacco companies with stealthy product placements.
In all, the streaming network’s original programs have more than twice as many scenes featuring smoking as other networks, according to Truth Initiative, a non-profit health organization.
The group examined the 14 most popular streaming and cable shows targeting viewers aged 15-24. Netflix led the pack with 319 tobacco incidents, either involving a tobacco product or implying the existence of one.
“Stranger Things” led all other shows with 182 of those scenes.
“The Walking Dead” was second with 94 scenes showing tobacco use, followed Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” 45 incidents, “House of Cards,” 41 incidents, “Fuller House” 22 incidents and the docu-series “Making a Murderer,” 20 incidents.
Tobacco companies were heavy advertisers in the early years of television in the 1950s, often sponsoring popular shows like “I Love Lucy,” and several news broadcasts.
But in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General issued its first report on the hazards of smoking and prompted campaigns to curb the influence of tobacco companies.
Three years later, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required television stations to air anti-smoking advertisements. In 1970, Congress had passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio.
But that didn’t stop characters from smoking on shows. In 2002 a new study published in the Journal Pediatrics showed a direct connection between smoking by youths and characters who smoked on shows.
The Motion Picture Association of America finally took action on its own. It declared that “all depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside of an historic or other mitigating context may receive a higher rating.”
The Hallmark Channel and Disney subsequently announced that it would eliminate all smoking scenes from their films. Most broadcast shows followed suit.
But cigarettes and other tobacco products are making “a pervasive re-emergence of smoking across screens that is glamorizing and re=normalizing a deadly habit to millions of impressionable young people,” according to Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative.
Smoking scenes are also still widespread on the big screen.
In a 2015 study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half (47 percent) of PG 13 films had at least one occurrence of smoking or tobacco use.
Surprisingly, Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox were responsible for more than half (56 percent) of youth-rated movies with smoking scenes.
Product placements have become come a significant revenue stream for movie makers. Big tobacco is part of the trend.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1-in-5 deaths, according to the CDC.
Tobacco-related illnesses costs more than $300 billion a year in the United States, including nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and $156 billion in lost productivity, the health organizations states.
“While streaming entertainment is more popular than ever, we’re glad that smoking is not,” a Netflix spokesman told Variety in response to the survey. “We’re interested to find out more about the study.”