SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Cigarette smoking seems almost campy in the Netflix show "Stranger Things." It's set in the 1980s. But the main characters are young teenagers, so the series was heavily criticized over all the smoking by its adult characters.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “STRANGER THINGS”)
WINONA RYDER: (As Joyce Byers) Oh, Jesus, Hopper.
DAVID HARBOUR: (As Jim Hopper) Brings me back old times.
RYDER: (As Joyce Byers) What?
HARBOUR: (As Jim Hopper) Well, sharing my cigarettes between...
RYDER: (As Joyce Byers) Fifth and sixth period.
HARBOUR: (As Jim Hopper) Yeah, under the steps.
SIMON: After a study showed that "Stranger Things" featured more smoking than any other show, Netflix announced a ban on cigarettes in new programs aimed at general audiences. But as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, there is plenty of pot smoking on Netflix shows and movies meant to appeal to teenagers.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The point is not that smoking pot is wrong. It's just maybe there's a double standard.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ULABY: The Netflix show "On My Block" is rated TV-14 for audiences 14 and older. That's exactly the same rating as "Stranger Things." "On My Block" is about high school students. Its very first scene shows kids doing bong hits at a party. One character is a lovable pot-smoking grandma. You'll also see plenty of weed on Netflix romantic comedies like "Always Be My Maybe."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) What are you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Smoking weed and dancing in front of a mirror. Want to join?
ULABY: That movie is rated for even younger audiences. This troubles Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
STANTON GLANTZ: Rating a film for 14-year-olds that's promoting substance use - it's like the peak of risk.
ULABY: Although pot is widely regarded as holistic and harmless, Glantz says that's not accurate.
GLANTZ: Marijuana is not harmless. Secondhand marijuana smoke has the same kind of adverse effects on your blood vessels as smoking a cigarette does.
ULABY: Study after study has shown a cause and effect between seeing cigarettes on screen and using tobacco, Glantz says. There aren't many similar studies about pot. But as legalization gains momentum, weed is becoming normalized in popular culture.
(SOUNDBITE OF COUGHING)
ULABY: Like in "Grace And Frankie" on Netflix, which is rated for older viewers.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GRACE AND FRANKIE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Marijuana has finally met its match - Grace Hanson.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) There's not enough weed in this world to relax that woman.
ULABY: A couple of years ago, Netflix showed up at a pop-up event at a West Hollywood dispensary and provided weed varieties based on some of its most popular shows. Pot, rather than tobacco, can help make a certain kind of company seem cool, says cultural critic Alyssa Rosenberg.
ALYSSA ROSENBERG: Marijuana has sort of a better lobbying message right now than tobacco does.
ULABY: For much of the 20th Century, Rosenberg says, Big Tobacco actively and successfully promoted cigarettes in movies and on TV.
ROSENBERG: They were planting stories about how Paul Newman was learning to light two cigarettes at a time for a role. They focused on trying to get stars to smoke on air during tapings of "The Merv Griffin Show."
ULABY: It's a little disingenuous, she says, for filmmakers or studios today to argue that smoking's an artistic expression or creative freedom when much of it, historically, was placed. Professor Stanton Glantz worries that kind of product placement might happen again with weed when it becomes widely commercialized.
GLANTZ: And Netflix ought to be adopting a policy that, you know, not only is based on the bomb-proof science we have on tobacco but brings common sense into the discussion for these other exposures.
ULABY: It's not just Netflix. Other leading streaming companies do not have policies about tobacco or pot use on screen - at least none that are public. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon did not respond to NPR's requests for comment. But earlier this month, 43 state attorneys general signed a letter sent to streaming companies asking for better practices when it comes to showing tobacco use on screen. Pot might be next on the agenda. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.