Is Netflix Encouraging Smoking?

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Smoking in media and movies has prompted smoking in society for the past nine decades. While this has been curtailed in recent decades, new avenues for media, like Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX), have come forward and seem to be pushing the issue once again.

Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, commented on this epidemic:

There has been a revolution in television that now encompasses a complex universe including Hulu, Netflix and an emerging world of on-demand platforms. And while everybody was watching, but no one was paying attention, we’ve experienced a pervasive re-emergence of smoking imagery that is glamorizing and renormalizing a deadly habit to millions of impressionable young people.

Netflix’s “Stranger Things” won five Creative Arts Emmy Awards in 2017 and drew an estimated 15.8 million viewers within three days of its second-season launch, and it features more than 180 tobacco incidents in the 2016 season. It is followed by “Orange Is the New Black” (45 incidents) and “House of Cards” (41 incidents). Other Netflix shows analyzed in the research include “Making a Murderer,” “Fuller House,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Daredevil.”

Looking at the numbers, 79% of the shows most popular with young people, aged 15 to 24 years, depict smoking prominently, the research finds. The critically acclaimed “Stranger Things,” nominated for two Golden Globe Awards in 2018, including best television drama series, has emerged as the worst offender.

Overall, these findings raise questions about the responsibility of streaming content providers to heed lessons learned from the motion picture industry, which has responded to the Surgeon General’s conclusion that exposure to smoking on screens causes young people to smoke.

Research has shown that youth and young adults with high exposure to tobacco imagery are twice as likely to begin smoking as those with less.

The question remains, will Netflix change its content to match this social message? Or is Netflix responsible for this at all, and should we make up our minds for ourselves?

Shares of Netflix closed Friday at $318.45, with a consensus analyst price target of $280.15 and a 52-week range of $138.66 to $333.98.

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