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July 15 2019

Netflix Censors Smoking on Stranger Things

by Betsy Pearson

Now that the long-awaited Stranger Things Season Three has been out long enough for viewers to binge watch on Netflix, we need to have a conversation about on-screen censorship. The popular Netflix series attracts millennials and baby boomers alike with its vintage 1980’s themes--incorporated in the clothing, music, and pop culture references made by the charters each episode. However, Netflix execs decided to censor what was a very common practice in that decade: Smoking.

The Truth Initiative, a youth focused anti-tobacco (and increasingly anti-vaping) group decided to rain on our Stranger Things parade by throwing shade in a report finding the series guilty of too much on screen smoke. Their reasoning? “The popularity of streaming combined with the pervasive rise of smoking in episodic content points to an emerging threat to a new generation of young Americans.” 

Netflix immediately released a statement appeasing the concerned viewers: “Going forward, all new projects that we commission with ratings of TV-14 or below for series or PG-13 or below for films, will be smoking and e-cigarette free — except for reasons of historical or factual accuracy.” As part of a new larger initiative, Netflix will soon include smoking information for all their content in ratings “so our members can make informed choices about what they watch.” 

I don’t think images of smoking on screen should be considered as suggestive nowadays because we have come so far in regards to our understanding of the harms of cigarettes and their impact on public health. This is an example of needless censoring, when I can’t imagine anybody being offended in the first place.  

Stranger Things is not a show about smoking, and the on-screen smoking scenes are not meant to promote cigarettes. The scenes show smoking because people smoked back then and thus the scenes accurately depict the period. From hospitals to restaurants, in the 1980’s cigarettes in people’s hands was just as common to iPhones in everyone’s pockets today. 

However, according to the CDC, today smoking rates are down across all races, genders, and ages. This unnecessary moral outrage is simply out of place in 2019. 

Nancy Berk, a clinical psychologist, begs the question in her oped about the Stranger Things smoking scene cuts, “What about personal and parental responsibility?” 

Because smoking cigarettes is not as prevalent nowadays, I believe personal responsibility should be able to overcome casual smoking on screen. The dangers of smoking cigarettes are common knowledge, and this senseless censorship comes off as controlling as helicopter parenting. Additionally, parents need to accept responsibility for their own child without panicking over a show that millions of people watch. 

Censoring is a slippery slope that can lead to special interest groups capitalizing on alarmism to sway businesses to act in their favor. Netflix should reconsider how easily they fall for fake moral outrage.





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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