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US news media coverage of tobacco control issues
  1. Marilee Long1,
  2. Michael D Slater2,
  3. Lindsay Lysengen1
  1. 1Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
  2. 2School of Communication, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Marilee Long
 Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, C223 Clark Building, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA; malong{at}


Objective: To characterise the relative amount and type of daily newspaper, local and national TV newscast, and national news magazine coverage of tobacco control issues in the United States in 2002 and 2003.

Design: Content analysis of daily newspapers, news magazines, and TV newscasts.

Subjects: Items about tobacco in daily newspapers, local and national TV newscasts, and three national news magazines in a nationally representative sample of 56 days of news stratified by day of week and season of the year, from 2002 and 2003.

Main outcome measures: Story theme, tobacco topics, sources, story prominence, story valence (orientation), and story type.

Results: Tobacco coverage was modest over the two-year period as estimated in our sample. Only 21 TV stories, 17 news magazine stories, and 335 daily newspaper stories were found during the two-year sampling period. Noteworthy results for the newspaper data set include the following: (1) government topics predominated coverage; (2) government action and negative health effects topics tended not to occur together in stories; (3) tobacco stories were fairly prominently placed in newspapers; (4) opinion news items tended to favour tobacco control policies, while news and feature stories were evenly split between positive and negative stories; and (5) tobacco coverage in the southeast, which is the country’s major tobacco producing region, did not differ from the rest of the country.

Conclusion: Results suggest mixed support in news coverage for tobacco control efforts in the United States. The modest amount of news coverage of tobacco is troubling, particularly because so few news stories were found on TV, which is a more important news source for Americans than newspapers. When tobacco was covered, government themed stories, which often did not include mentions of negative health effects, were typical, suggesting that media coverage does not reinforce the reason for tobacco control efforts. However, some results were encouraging. For example, when newspapers did cover tobacco, they accorded the stories relatively high prominence, thus increasing the chance that readers would see tobacco stories when they were published.

  • ASSIST, American Stop Smoking Intervention Study
  • DMA, designated market area
  • MSA, Master Settlement Agreement
  • United States
  • media coverage
  • tobacco control

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  • Competing interests: none declared