A national surveillance system for tracking tobacco news stories

Am J Prev Med. 2007 Jan;32(1):79-85. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2006.09.001. Epub 2006 Dec 20.


Background: Two of the major goals of tobacco prevention and control activities are to change social norms and influence policy. The news media can play an important role for achieving both goals.

Methods: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health created a surveillance system to track tobacco stories in the news media beginning in 2004. The system was developed based on reviewing lessons from previous news media tracking efforts, including defining the purpose of the system, using a parsimonious approach to sample media outlets, and attending to data-quality issues. Tobacco news stories were systematically identified and coded from ten newspapers, four news wire services, and seven national television networks.

Results: Findings indicated that from January 2004 through June 2005, tobacco-related stories were in selected major newspapers virtually every day. More than 70% of all newspaper stories contained one of only three main story themes: policy or regulation (31.0%), legal issues (23.8%), or health effects or statistics (18.1%). Television news stories on tobacco were much less common, but increased substantially during the first 6 months of 2005 compared to 2004. Health effects/statistics (50.5%) were the dominant theme for television, with policy/regulation a distant second (19.5%).

Conclusions: Tobacco-related media coverage can be systematically tracked and characterized. These findings may have value to public health researchers and policymakers who wish to evaluate efforts to curb tobacco-related disease.

MeSH terms

  • Mass Media*
  • Research*
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Tobacco Industry*
  • United States