The power of a frame: an analysis of newspaper coverage of tobacco issues--United States, 1985-1996

J Health Commun. 1998 Oct-Dec;3(4):307-25. doi: 10.1080/108107398127139.


For more than three decades, public policy makers and public health officials have had conclusive evidence of the hazards of tobacco use, yet tobacco products remain legal, accessible, and acceptable in our society. Public health advocates have been unable to develop a consistent, coordinated message powerful enough to combat the influence of the tobacco industry. Studying the way in which the tobacco issue has been framed in the mass media over the past decade may provide important clues as to why public health efforts to overcome the tobacco industry's influence on public policy and on tobacco use have not been entirely successful. This paper describes and analyzes the predominant framing tactics used by the tobacco industry and by tobacco control advocates for the last 11 years by reviewing 179 front-page articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post during this period. We conclude that while the tobacco industry has created a central message and theme which has been used constructively and consistently over time, the tobacco control movement has not developed a consistent, powerful, and compelling message. Developing such a message may be important if the nation is to restore progress in reducing tobacco use.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Journalism
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Newspapers as Topic*
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Public Policy
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United States / epidemiology