Senators Demand Netflix Reduce Scenes With Smoking, Vaping

Zinger Key Points
  • "The Queen's Gambit" and "The Umbrella Academy" were cited for too much smoking
  • Netflix was given until April 21 to respond

Three Democratic senators have called on Netflix Inc. NFLX to reduce the prevalence of smoking and vaping images in its streaming content.

What Happened: Bloomberg reported that Senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent a letter to Netflix co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos seeking more smoke-free scenes in the streamer’s series and films.

The senators cited a report by the public health nonprofit Truth Initiative, which determined Netflix’s programming which is popular with young viewers had more scenes with smoking or vaping than the content on any other channel for the last four years.

The report singled out “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Umbrella Academy” as each having more than 200 instances of smoking or vaping during their respective 2020 seasons.

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Why It Matters: The senators accused Netflix of not living up to a previous promise to cut back on smoking and vaping scenes.

“In 2019, in response to a letter on this same subject from us, Netflix stated it was “committed to reducing portrayals of tobacco use in [its] content” and pledged that “all newly commissioned projects with ratings of TV-14, PG-13 or below will be tobacco-free, unless it is for the limited purpose of historical or factual accuracy, or to convey an anti-smoking message,” the senators wrote.

“This commitment was a laudable step forward, and Truth Initiative research indicates that your company did decrease or eliminate tobacco use in some popular shows with young adults.

“Unfortunately,” they continued, “however, among several streaming platforms, Netflix continues to air the most series and films that include tobacco imagery. Research shows that multiple Netflix programs increased the number of episodes with tobacco imagery, and several series included tobacco use in every episode. Netflix must do more to limit exposure to and glamorization of tobacco use for young people.”

The senators asked Netflix to respond to their letter by April 21.

Photo: A scene from "The Umbrella Academy," courtesy of Netflix.

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