Netflix Nixes Nicotine, Not Narcotics

Written by Melissa Henson | Published June 3, 2020

Just under a year ago, Netflix announced that it will not include portrayals of smoking or e-cigarette use in new TV shows rated TV-14 or lower or movies rated PG-13 and below. Speaking to Variety, a Netflix spokesperson said, “Netflix strongly supports artistic expression. We also recognize that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people.”

This is certainly true, and social science will bear it out.

Netflix should be applauded for the responsible decision to not glamorize tobacco use to impressionable youths; but it is also worth noting that this new Netflix policy apparently does not extend to depictions of illegal drug or alcohol use on programs marketed to teens.

A few weeks ago, the PTC released a study looking at programs that Netflix markets to teen viewers. Alarmingly, we learned that nearly half of all programming designated as “Teen” by Netflix was rated either TV-MA (104 titles, or 40.8%) or R (23 titles, or 9.0%); and every single program that carried a TV-14 rating included the harshest profanity.

We did a deeper dive into the content on some of those teen-targeted movies and TV series and found that across eleven movies and series for which filtering data was available, there were 169 depictions of illegal drug and alcohol use.

So, while Netflix is publicly admitting that its program content can adversely impact young people, and they’re taking positive steps to do something about it; they haven’t done anything to halt depictions of illegal drug use or depictions of underage drinking, but social science tells us that children can learn these behaviors from the media they consume, too.

During the nation-wide lockdown to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, airwaves were flooded with PSAs reminding folks that “We’re all in this together.” Those PSAs are predicated on the assumption that they can help influence pro-social behavior. But television can also teach anti-social behavior; as more than 70 years’ research has proven – and it is long past time for Netflix to acknowledge the impact its product has on impressionable children across a range of behaviors – and for them to start labeling content correctly and stop marketing adult themes to children.

Take Action. Stay Informed.