Tobacco appears to be making an unwelcome comeback on the small screen, with shows “Stranger Things,” “The Walking Dead” and “Orange Is the New Black” being named the top offenders.

Graph of the number of tobacco incidents in top TV shows

While the broadcast television and movie industries have made progress in reducing the amount of tobacco imagery young people are exposed to, those gains may be weakened by newer forms of online streaming content. On platforms like Netflix and Hulu, tobacco use is pervasive, rising and more prominent than in broadcast and cable programming.

A report by Truth Initiative® revealed that 79 percent of the shows most popular with young people ages 15-24 depict smoking prominently. Researchers used a nationally-sourced sample of youth and young adults to identify the 14 most popular shows in this group. The shows were then analyzed for tobacco imagery, and the results are surprising: among the sample shows, there were nearly 500 depictions of tobacco. The seven Netflix shows in the sample contained more tobacco incidents (319) than the seven broadcast and cable television shows (139).

The report warns that smoking is becoming re-normalized on screen, which is troubling because exposure to tobacco imagery has been linked with youth smoking. In fact, 37 percent of new youth smokers in the U.S. can be attributed to exposure to smoking in movies, according to a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed studies.

For more on this topic, read the Truth Initiative report “While You Were Streaming: Tobacco Use Sees a Renormalization in On-Demand Digital Content, Diluting Progress in Broadcast & Theaters.”

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