By Anita Singh
July 4, 2019
The Man With No Name is about to be slapped with a health warning. Netflix is to add smoking to its online rating system, listing it alongside scenes of sex and violence.
Classic films that will be branded for their tobacco content include The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, in which Clint Eastwood is rarely seen without a cigarillo between his lips.
All future films made by Netflix will omit smoking unless the writer and director can prove it is “essential to the creative vision” of the project. A remake of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western would be unlikely to feature Eastwood drawling: “After a meal, there’s nothing like a good cigar.”
From Princess Margaret in The Crown to Don Draper in Mad Men, Kristin Scott Thomas in Four Weddings and a Funeral to Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary, some of film and television’s most memorable characters have a cigarette in their hand.
All will merit smoking warnings under new rules announced yesterday by the US streaming service, along with a ban on smoking in all new content (a TV-14 or below rating for television, PG-13 or below for film) aimed at young people except “for reasons of historical or factual accuracy”.
Higher-rated projects will only include smoking if it is “essential to the creative vision of the artist or because it’s character-defining (historically or culturally important).”
A spokesman said: “Netflix strongly supports artistic expression. We also recognise that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people.
"Starting later this year, smoking information will be included as part of our ratings on the Netflix service so our members can make informed choices about what they watch.”
The move was welcomed by the British charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Its chief executive, Deborah Arnott, said: “Netflix has taken a major step forward by committing to making its programmes for young people free from smoking.
“However, we don’t think they’re going far enough. Adding warnings to programmes for older age groups that do contain smoking won’t be effective. Children don’t just watch programmes made for them, and they aren’t going to be put off by warnings.”
The Netflix decision puts pressure on the BBC, which adheres to guidelines which state that smoking “must not be condoned, encouraged or glamorised” in programmes broadcast before the watershed or “likely to be widely seen, heard or used by children and young people unless there is editorial justification”.
The rule does not apply to Fleabag, one of the BBC’s most popular series. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character is a smoker and the show, while aimed at an adult audience, is watched by teenagers. The BBC said the character is intended to reflect the complexities of modern life.
Netflix’s announcement followed the release of a report by Truth Initiative, a US anti-smoking group, which claimed there has been a fourfold increase in depictions of smoking on television in the past year and singled out Netflix series Stranger Things as the worst offender.
According to the report, the second season of Stranger Things featured 262 depictions of smoking, a 44 per cent increase on the first season.
Other Netflix shows said to be popular with the 15-24 age group also now have higher rates of smoking than in the previous series, according to Truth Initiative, including House of Cards (54 depictions, up from 41) and Orange is the New Black (233, up from 45).
Netflix sources said the crackdown on smoking was unrelated to the report and had been planned for some time.