WASHINGTON, DC – It’s no surprise that 2020 has been a big year for streaming – in a spooky and unprecedented year, entertainment has provided viewers with a source of escape and comfort while staying at home.
But one new report from Truth Initiative, an anti-smoking group, says watching some of the year’s biggest TV shows, movies and music videos also exposed young people to frequent scenes of images of smoking and vaping, which, studies show that they are more likely to try some form of tobacco.
Truth InitiativeThe 2020 streaming study, released Tuesday and obtained exclusively by USA TODAY, estimates that 27 million young people were exposed to images of smoking and vaping in 2020 from streaming shows alone.
“This behavior became so prevalent among all of us, but especially among young people during the pandemic, when everyone was stuck at home and watching more content than ever before,” said Robin Koval, CEO of Truth Initiative.
Over 60 percent of the most popular shows among 15 to 24 year olds featured depictions of tobacco use. The figure is down 13 percentage points from the 2019 study, but remains a worrying total, Koval says. The study notes that an increase in streaming activity fueled by a pandemic in 2020 “raises concerns that overall exposure to tobacco imagery may be greater.”
Last year’s report:Tobacco imagery on TV persists, study finds young viewers turning to vaping
Netflix was rated the worst offender on television for the fourth year in a row, led by hit drama “The Queen’s Gambit,” according to the Fourth Annual Report: Tobacco was included in every episode. “Stranger Things” also made the list. (Even though its most recent season came out in 2019, it was still one of the most popular shows of the year, according to the group‘s survey of 15-24 year olds.)
Other recently released or most watched shows with heavy smoking in 2020: “The Simpsons” and “Bob Burgers” by Fox, “Shameless” by Showtime and “Big Mouth”, “The Umbrella Academy” and “On My Block. “
In 2019, Netflix has adopted a tobacco-free policy for new shows aimed at a younger audience (14 years or younger), but the new decree did not apply to current series and included exceptions for “creative vision” and historical accuracy.
“It’s disappointing because it has been brought to their attention,” said Koval. To Netflix, she adds: “We have reported that the problem exists. We expect (them) to do better.”
“We remain committed to reducing smoking in our content, especially for shows aimed at young people (TV-14 and under),” Netflix said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Since implementing our policy, we are proud that our new youth rated and popular youth shows like ‘Shadow and Bone’, ‘Sweet Tooth’ and ‘Never Have I Ever’ include a ban on to smoke.” (Representatives for Fox and Showtime did not respond to requests for comment.)
Progress was made in 2020: Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” and “Fuller House” removed all tobacco portrayals, and “Big Mouth,” “Shameless” and “Lucifer” smoked less than in previous seasons, according to the study.
The continued audience for “Stranger Things” raises another key conversation point in the streaming age: Storytelling choices matter in the long run, as the ability to binge on older shows means the effects of the performances. on-screen may persist for a long time after a program is broadcast. initial race.
“You can’t erase history, but I think it’s a great way to raise awareness about the issue so that content creators, producers, the entertainment community understand that these creative decisions they make have consequences. and can last a very, very long time, ”says Koval.
“Wonder Woman”, Camila Cabello, The Weeknd also present tobacco consumption
More than a third of the best films released in 2020 featured depictions of tobacco, including several rated by the MPA as suitable for young audiences, including “The Personal Story of David Copperfield” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” according to an analysis by NORC at the University of Chicago.
And for the first time, the study also rated popular music videos of 2020: almost one in four of the top 10 songs on the weekly dance and electronics, country, R & B / hip-hop, rock and alternative charts. and pop featured tobacco. use, collectively amassing more than 6 billion views on YouTube, research from Truth Initiative found. “Bandit” by JuiceWRLD, “Party Girl” by StaySolidRocky, “My Oh My” by Camila Cabello and “Heartless” by The Weeknd had the most tobacco performances.
“While we cannot determine the age of individual viewers, the nature of the virality of music videos among young people suggests that at a minimum, these videos had meaningful views of young people,” the report says. “And the nature of music videos, which are short and often watched over the phone, means that young people are likely to absorb the images of tobacco without parental supervision or knowledge.”
Representatives for WarnerMedia, Cabello, The Weeknd and StaySolidRocky did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A major change in cinema: Disney’s “Cruella”, which debuted in theaters and aired simultaneously on Disney + in May 2021, removed the character’s long cigarette seen in previous “101 Dalmatians” films.
Where to go from here?
Tobacco is often described in entertainment as something to be achieved in a stressful situation. Experts note that this sends a damaging message, especially as depression and anxiety among young people have doubled during the pandemic, according to a Study 2021 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
What can we do to help? The 2020 study urges creators to develop “transparent anti-smoking policies,” to continue to run anti-smoking and anti-vaping ads, and to expand education and awareness.
Hollywood has increasingly warned viewers about content about abuse, addiction and mental health issues, and has offered resources to help. Koval says the same can be done with the use of tobacco.
“We understand that they create entertainment that their audiences love,” she said. and all the wonderful things we love about a show and also helping our kids avoid addiction that can last a lifetime. “
Contributor: Bill Keveney
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Netflix’s Queen’s Gambit, Stranger Things feature the most tobacco in 2020