Characteristics of community newspaper coverage of tobacco control and its relationship to the passage of tobacco ordinances

Eckler, Petya and Rodgers, Shelly and Everett, Kevin (2016) Characteristics of community newspaper coverage of tobacco control and its relationship to the passage of tobacco ordinances. Journal of Community Health, 41 (5). pp. 953-961. ISSN 1573-3610 (

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To answer the call for more systematic surveillance, analysis and evaluation of tobacco news coverage, a 6-year content analysis of newspaper stories from Missouri was conducted to evaluate the presence of public health facts and characteristics of stories framed for or against tobacco control. The method was a content analysis of all Missouri newspapers (N = 381) from September 2006 to November 2011 for a total sample of 4711. Results were connected to the larger, societal context within which newspaper stories reside, i.e., towns that passed or did not pass a smoke-free ordinance during the project intervention. Results showed the majority of news stories were about tobacco control, which were mostly written at the local level, were episodic, and carried a positive slant toward tobacco control. However, there were more negative than positive headlines, and more negative editorials than non-editorials. Tobacco control stories used fewer public health facts than non-tobacco control stories. Towns with existing smoke-free ordinances had more tobacco control stories, and towns without smoke-free ordinances had fewer tobacco control stories and more non-tobacco control stories, suggesting a connection between news media coverage and the passage of smoke-free policies. We conclude that the tobacco industry may have had success in impacting news stories in no-ordinance cities by diverting attention from tobacco control to secondary topics, such as youth smoking, which meant stories had fewer public health facts and fewer positive health benefits in towns that may have needed these details most.