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Media Advocacy and Newspaper Coverage of Tobacco Issues: A Comparative Analysis of 1 year's Print News in the United States and Australia

Clegg-Smith K, Terry-McElrath YM, Wakefield MA, Durrant R. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 7(2): 289-299, 2005.

Tobacco control advocates now recognize the value of influencing news coverage of tobacco; news coverage influences attitudes and behavior as well as policy progression. It is, however, difficult to assess the progress of such efforts within a single national and temporal context. Our data represent the first systematic international comparison of press coverage of tobacco issues. Tobacco articles from major daily newspapers in Australia (12 newspapers; 1,188 articles) and the United States (30 newspapers; 1,317 articles) were collected over 1 year (2001). The analysis shows that coverage in the two countries was similarly apportioned between hard news (.70%) and opinion pieces. Similarly, stories in both countries were most likely to recount positive events. The substantive focus of coverage, however, differed, as did the expression of hostile opinion toward tobacco control efforts (United States, 4%; Australia, 7.1%). Although secondhand smoke and education, cessation, and prevention efforts were covered widely in both settings, these topics dominated coverage in Australia (29.2%) more than in the United States (17.6%), where a more diffuse set of tobacco topics gained relative prominence. The difference in policy conditions seems to offer contrasting opportunities for advocates in the two countries to use newspapers to promote helpful tobacco control messages for both behavior and policy change.

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