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Print media coverage of research on passive smoking


OBJECTIVE To assess the extent and content of newspaper and magazine coverage of research on passive smoking.

DESIGN Content analysis of newspaper and magazine articles.

SUBJECTS Articles reporting on passive smoking research published in newspapers (n = 180) or magazines (n = 92) between January 1981 and December 1994.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Numbers of articles, conclusions of articles, sources quoted, numbers and characteristics of research studies cited, presence of tobacco advertising.

RESULTS The number of newspaper and magazine articles reporting on passive smoking research increased from four in 1981 to 57 in 1992 and 32 in 1994. Sixty-two per cent (168/272) of articles concluded that the research on passive smoking is controversial. Tobacco industry representatives were quoted significantly more often in newspaper articles (52%, 94/180) than magazine articles (12%, 11/92) (p<0.0001). Of 121 different research studies cited in the lay press articles, only 15 were from tobacco-industry sponsored projects or publications. In magazines, acceptance of tobacco industry advertising was associated with the conclusion that research on passive smoking is controversial (p<0.0001).

CONCLUSIONS Although research on the harmful effects of passive smoking accumulated between 1981 and 1994, lay press coverage of the research maintained that the science was controversial. Few research studies were cited to support the industry's claim that passive smoking is not harmful to health. However, tobacco industry representatives who were critical of the research methods used to study the health effects of passive smoking were frequently quoted.

  • environmental tobacco smoke
  • media
  • passive smoking

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