Framing tobacco taxes: Exploring the construction of print media coverage of tobacco excise tax initiatives in six states and the implications of coverage for media advocacy


Addressing the public health problem of tobacco use requires action on multiple levels. Interventions focused solely on individual behavior change are not sufficient. Policy interventions such as raising the price of cigarettes are needed in order to make changes in the social environment that will support a non-smoking norm. When the tobacco control community prioritized work on policy initiatives, the importance of the media in such efforts became apparent. The news media help establish the salience of an issue, providing the primary forum for public debate about problems and potential solutions (McCombs & Shaw, 1972; Chapman, 2004). Media advocacy, or the strategic use of news media to advance a social or public policy goal (Treno & Holder, 1997), is therefore an essential part of today's comprehensive tobacco control efforts. This study seeks to understand what information is available to the news media from advocates on both sides of a specific tobacco control policy issue and how this information is used to construct the coverage we read in print. Focusing on six states' recent efforts to raise the price of cigarettes by increasing the excise tax, this research combined analysis of print news coverage with analysis of media advocacy documents from the tobacco industry and tobacco control community. Three pairs of states (one state that passed a tax increase and one state that proposed but did not pass an increase during 2002) were selected. One pair consisted of states that used a ballot initiative; the two remaining pairs employed direct legislation. Pairs were matched based on a prioritized set of matching criteria. The combination of tobacco industry documents, tobacco control documents, and print news coverage provided a multifaceted exploration of the construction of print news coverage for a specific tobacco control policy. The inclusion of states that employed both ballot initiatives and direct legislation also enriched the findings regarding how coverage differs by type of policy mechanism. The knowledge gained from this research will allow advocates to refine existing and develop new media advocacy strategies to advance tobacco control policies

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