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Netflix Worst Offender in Showing Smoking in TV Shows, Watchdog Group Says

Netflix’s original series contain the highest number of smoking depictions — by far — among TV shows that are popular among young people, according to a new study by antismoking group Truth Initiative.

Netflix shows contained 319 “tobacco incidents” — more than twice the number in broadcast and cable TV shows, which had 139, per the watchdog organization’s analysis of top series for the 2015-16 season.

Season 1 of supernatural thriller “Stranger Things,” a breakout hit for Netflix, had a whopping 182 tobacco incidents, the highest total among the shows examined. No. 2 was AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” with 94 scenes showing tobacco use, followed by four Netflix shows: “Orange Is the New Black” (45), “House of Cards” (41), “Fuller House” (22), and docu-series “Making a Murderer” (20), according to Truth Initiative.

ABC’s “Modern Family” had 20 “tobacco incidents” during the 2015-16 season; FX’s “American Horror Story” had 15; and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” had nine, according to Truth Initiative. The org also looked at Netflix’s “Marvel’s Daredevil” season 2 and found no depictions of tobacco use.

Asked for comment, a Netflix rep said: “While streaming entertainment is more popular than ever, we’re glad that smoking is not. We’re interested to find out more about the study.” Truth Initiative released the study Friday.

Of the Netflix shows cited, “Stranger Things,” “Making a Murderer” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” are rated “TV-14” by Netflix (suitable for viewers 14 or older), while “House of Cards” and “OITNB” are rated “TV-MA” (for adult audiences only). “Fuller House” is rated TV-Y7, intended for audiences over 7.

Overall, according to Truth Initiative’s analysis, 79% of the TV shows it analyzed prominently depict smoking. The org analyzed 14 series that were the most popular with American consumers 15-24, based on nationally sourced sample data.

The group says tobacco use is more prevalent in digital content than traditional TV. And that’s worrisome because younger consumers have gravitated toward streaming services like Netflix while watching less traditional TV, it noted. Truth Initiative cited a UC San Francisco study of 2015-16 top-rated TV shows that found 54% of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu shows sampled were associated with tobacco incidents, compared with 38% of broadcast TV shows and 22% of cable TV shows.

The rise of subscription VOD services has resulted in “a pervasive reemergence of smoking across screens that is glamorizing and renormalizing a deadly habit to millions of impressionable young people,” Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, said in a statement.

Among the measures Truth Initiative outlined to take action on the issue: working with producers to exclude tobacco imagery from shows; enforcing stricter parental-guideline ratings for content that includes tobacco use; and changing state film-production subsidy policies to provide tax and other incentives for productions that do not promote tobacco use.

Truth Initiative has been among the leading groups urging Hollywood to cease or cut back on depictions of smoking. The MPAA last year announced that it would consider scenes showing adults smoking (along with historical context) as a factor in movie-ratings decisions. According to research cited by the Truth Initiative, 37% of youth smoking initiation in the U.S. is attributable to exposure to smoking in movies.

The Washington, D.C.-based antismoking org (formerly known as Legacy) was formed by and is funded under the landmark 1998 settlement agreement between major U.S. tobacco companies and 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and five territories.

Pictured above: David Harbour as Chief Jim Hopper in Netflix’s “Stranger Things” season 1

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