Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Get Real Tobacco Control

News reports have revealed that online streaming service - NetFlix - has got itself into hot water for the portrayal of smoking almost three times that of broadcast TV, on its programmes. The complainant according to article is The Truth Initiative - an organisation which should be sued for using a misleading name as most vapers and smokers will know that this organisation is 'liberal' with facts, evidence, science and truth, to say the least.

The complaint is not just against Netflix, other streaming services have also come in for flak. But Netflix seems to have borne the brunt of the latest criticism.

Apparently, the Netflix show that has been singled out as particularly bad for portraying smoking is the hugely popular and successful ' Stranger Things'. I have actually watched Stranger Things so for those unfamiliar with it I shall give a bit of background.

Stranger Things is a supernatural series set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. According to The Truth Initiative, it is supposed to be a children's TV series. This is something I seriously doubt. Most children I know would be scared to death by this programme and its portrayal of monsters invading from an alternate universe. Whilst it is true that the show itself centres around a group of kids, I would in no way class this series as a kids TV programme.

Anyway, back to main thrust of this article. As stated above, Stranger Things is set in the year 1983. I remember the 1980's very well. I may have lived in the UK, rather than the USA, but I have clear memories of the 1980's (I was 20 years old in 1983). One thing I do remember of the 1980's is how prevalent smoking was. Whilst it is true that smoking had declined since the previous decade, smoking was still a very commonly witnessed activity. In the 1980's, you could still smoke just about anywhere you wished. I can remember going on holiday in 1980's and being able to light up on an aeroplane (smoking one side of the plane, non-smoking the other). I can still remember watching films in the cinema through a fug of cigarette smoke. You could smoke in your workplace, in resturants, and of course in pubs. Formula One racing was still sponsored by tobacco companies, as were tournaments in sports such as Rugby League, Darts, Snooker, Cricket, Golf. The list was endless. In Snooker and Darts, players would commonly be seen toking hard on a cigarette whilst awaiting their turn. I remember Dart-boards in particular being covered by ash that had been shaken off the darts being thrown by the smoking players. However, the universal truth of the 1980's was that smoking was ubiquitous. Yes, the rate of smoking was declining, but the fact remains was that it was to be seen everywhere.

So, given that Stranger Things is set in the year 1983, then why should it not portray smoking as it actually was in those days ?

The problem with TV these days is that they are too frightened to upset the permanently offended. People like the The Truth Initiative who, if they had their way, would airbrush the act of smoking out of every TV show and movie that has ever been made.

The whole point of making TV shows and movies is that they should be reflecting what real life is like. Even in 2018, there are still plenty of people who smoke (10 million in the UK according to ASH's latest figures). The smokers, while they may be a minority these days, still make up a large proportion of the population. Airbrushing such people out of TV programmes because they are 'undesirable' is not a true reflection of life.

If you went back to watch TV programmes that were made in the 1980's, you will find that the majority of them still featured smoking heavily. In the UK, even soap operas such Coronation Street and Eastenders featured smoking heavily (Elsie Tanner & Dot Cotton anybody ?). I can remember watching many guests on Parkinson (for example) openly smoking on TV whilst they were being interviewed..

The improvisation comedy program 'Whose Line Is It Anyway' often featured Peter Cook as one of its participants - and Cook was rarely seen on screen without his trademark cigarette. Many other comedy programmes of the day, whether sitcoms or Live performances, featured smoking. The Irish comedian Dave Allen's trademark was a cigarette and a glass of whiskey. There were plenty more like him. The USA in the 1980's was no different.

Admittedly, I have not seen the other programs mentioned in the article. But that article chose to focus on Stranger Things and the fact that there was so much smoking on screen, and I have watched Stranger Things..

Newsflash Tobacco Control. If programmes are set in a historical context then we expect them to respect that particular context. Smoking was a common sight for the majority of us in the 20th Century. In the 1980's it was still a very common sight. Stranger Things is just reflecting that reality. Just because Tobacco Control does not like that reality does not mean it did not exist. Stop trying to re-write history. That is a battle you are NEVER going to win.


  1. Love to see them cleanse this one.


    1. Yeah. There are plenty more where that came from. Songs like 'Cigarettes & Alcohol' by Oasis for example.

      ...and even though it is not about smoking, just how do they go about changine Deep Purple's Smoke On The Water ? ;-)

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