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UK news media representations of smoking, smoking policies and tobacco bans in prisons
  1. Amy Robinson,
  2. Helen Sweeting,
  3. Kate Hunt
  1. MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Helen Sweeting, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G2 3QB, UK; Helen.Sweeting{at}


Background Prisoner smoking rates remain high, resulting in secondhand smoke exposures for prison staff and non-smoker prisoners. Several jurisdictions have introduced prison smoking bans with little evidence of resulting disorder. Successful implementation of such bans requires staff support. As news media representations of health and other issues shape public views and as prison smoking bans are being introduced in the UK, we conducted content analysis of UK news media to explore representations of smoking in prisons and smoke-free prisons.

Methods We searched 64 national and local newspapers and 5 broadcast media published over 17 months during 2015–2016, and conducted thematic analysis of relevant coverage in 106 articles/broadcasts.

Results Coverage was relatively infrequent and lacked in-depth engagement with the issues. It tended to reinforce a negative view of prisoners, avoid explicit concern for prisoner or prison staff health and largely ignore the health gains of smoke-free policies. Most coverage failed to discuss appropriate responses or support for cessation in the prison context, or factors associated with high prisoner smoking rates. Half the articles/broadcasts included coverage suggesting smoke-free prisons might lead to unrest or instability.

Conclusions Negative news media representations of prisoners and prison smoking bans may impact key stakeholders’ views (eg, prison staff, policy-makers) on the introduction of smoke-free prison policies. Policy-makers’ communications when engaging in discussion around smoke-free prison policies should draw on the generally smooth transitions to smoke-free prisons to date, and on evidence on health benefits of smoke-free environments and smoking cessation.

  • cessation
  • priority/special populations
  • public policy
  • secondhand smoke
  • media

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  • Contributors AR conducted the media searches, thematic coding and thematic summaries and contributed to manuscript drafting. HS contributed to the media searches, thematic coding and thematic summaries, and drafted and revised the manuscript. KH conceived the study and contributed to the media searches, thematic coding, thematic summaries and manuscript drafting.

  • Funding This work was supported by the UK Medical Research Council MC_UU_12017/12 and the CSO (SPHSU-12).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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