Cary Elwes plays the arrogant, cigar-smoking mayor in the third season of "Stranger Things."
Photo: Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix
Photo: Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix vows less smoking in future productions after ‘Stranger Things’ backlash

Originally posted Monday, July 8, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

In response to a report by an anti-tobacco group TruthInitiative, Netflix has vowed to greatly reduce cigarette smoking in its future new original productions. The study cited Atlanta-produced “Stranger Things” as a major offender.

“Netflix strongly supports artistic expression. We also recognize that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people. 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,” a Netflix spokesperson told EW in a statement.

TruthInitiative noted that three popular Netflix shows depicted plenty of smoking: “Orange is the New Black,” “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and period piece “Stranger Things.” All episodes of “Stranger Things” in the first two seasons featured tobacco, the study noted. 

The third season of “Stranger Things,” which came out July 4, features plenty of on-screen smoking, especially by David Harbour’s chief of police character Jim Hopper. Winona Ryder’s character Joyce Byers is a chain smoker as well. A Soviet leader in the opening seconds of the third season is also seen squelching a cigarette dramatically after an experiment goes awry. And the mayor of Hawkins, Ind. likes to smoke stogies. None of the key teen characters, though, partake.

From a creative and realistic standpoint, all the smoking in “Stranger Things” makes sense. It’s set in the 1980s, when about a third of adults smoked cigarettes. And it’s fictionally based in the Midwest, where smoking was especially prevalent. 

By 2016, smoking was down to about 15.5 percent of the adult population with a widening disparity based on education level, according to Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Question: will the “Stranger Things” creators, the Duffer Brothers, heed the criticism and scale back the smoking prevalence for season four?

Already, an historical film like “Hidden Figures,” set in the 1960s and shot in Atlanta, conspicuously featured no smoking despite the fact most workplaces at the time were clouded with smoke.

Director Theodor Melfi explained to EmpireOnline in 2016: “In real life, when we looked at reference pictures, every single person in those rooms had a cigarette in their mouth. But I don’t want to to put smoking in a movie unless I absolutely have to. Also, it makes the movie R-rated right away. And this movie being rated R would be a disservice, because you really want teenage kids and pre-teens and kids to see it.”

In another 1960s film depicting actual events released earlier this year, “The Best of Enemies,” smoking was not heavily featured despite the fact most of the people in that small North Carolina town at the time were probably heavy smokers given that the state was home to some of the biggest cigarette manufacturers in the world. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.