August 2, 2019

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Netflix will be making shows in more countries: Will they be a smoky as US shows?

Netflix, the smokiest of the US streaming services, is going to develop more original programs around the world.

Having already bankrolled local programming in Germany, France and the UK, Netflix will now target other international territories including the Netherlands, Argentina and Colombia, Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Screen Daily reports.

Truth Initiative studies demonstrate that Netflix includes more tobacco imagery in its streaming series popular with young audiences than any other US company. Facing questions from US Senators and its own shareholders, Netflix recently said it will limit smoking in its future youth-rated films and TV series. But what does that mean?

Three reasons to stay on streaming alert

1 | Age-classification regimes in many countries often down-rate material that is adult (R) rated in the US, delivering more tobacco exposure to children and teens.

2 | It is not yet clear if the Netflix pledge to limit smoking in youth-rated programs covers only its US programming or its originals produced worldwide.

3 | Programs streamed to multiple devices are not truly age-gated — ratings are purely advisory.

A recent report from Ontario, Canada, shows that, when it comes to feature films, there is a lot more smoking in youth-rated movies there than the US because Canadian authorities rate many films for youth that garner R ratings in the US (because Canadian authorities are less worried about sex and langauge than in the US.)  As a result, teens in Toronto have access to twice as many top-grossing films with smoking as their peers in New York.

On its streaming platform, Netflix has a track record of packing shows with smoking.

For example, the latest season of Stranger Things (season three) features Camel (BAT) and Marlboro (PMI) brands in close-ups. Within four days of its debut, we estimate, this TV-14 series delivered more than 3.2 billion tobacco impressions to US audiences alone — as many as the very smokiest PG-13 feature films deliver to US moviegoers in two months.

Six ways to protect our kids

Public health forces outside the US should anticipate that there will be smoking in the local productions Netflix co-produces in their regions.

Policy makers should demand the full range of safeguards — adult ratings, pre-show anti-tobacco spots, no-payoff certifications, no brand display, no public subsidies — outlined by the World Health Organization to implement Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 13 for films.

Streaming companies should also be required to regularly disclose viewership data for shows and films with any tobacco, by age cohort and territory, regardless of rating. Exposure to on-screen smoking is a proven public health hazard. Exposure data is needed to ensure safe practices.

Press Netflix to publish and enforce a detailed global policy that keeps tobacco out of programming rated for youth or with substantial youth audiences.


This blog post by Jonathan Polansky is cross-posted from the Smokefree Movies blog.

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