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A content analysis of popular media reporting regarding increases in minimum ages of legal access for tobacco

  • Author(s): Huey, J
  • Apollonio, DE
  • et al.

© 2018 The Author(s). Background: In the late 20th century, US localities began increasing the minimum age of legal access (MLA) for tobacco from 18 to 21 years by enacting "Tobacco 21" ordinances. Although these policies have a strong evidence base and broad popular support, popular media coverage of tobacco control laws has not always been accurate. This study sought to determine if contemporaneous popular media reporting accurately reflected the scientific findings regarding increased tobacco MLAs. Methods: We searched LexisNexis for popular media reports that (1) addressed proposed or enacted Tobacco 21 ordinances and were (2) published in English, (3) drawn from a US news source, and (4) written after January 2004. We conducted a content analysis for quality based on a validated measure of accuracy of reporting, the Index of Scientific Quality (ISQ), which allows assessment of articles by assigning scores ranging from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). Results: Searches yielded 378 articles; after screening for relevance and duplicates, 98 were included in the review. All studies identified through the keyword searches addressed Tobacco 21 policies. The average global score identifying the scientific quality of the articles was 2.98 of 5. Over three-quarters of the popular media articles addressing Tobacco 21 laws were written after a systematic review of these policies was released by the Institute of Medicine and approximately 4 in 10 cited findings from that review. Conclusions: Popular media reports on Tobacco 21 laws demonstrated average overall quality and relied on both anecdotal and scientific evidence, in contrast to previous studies found that popular media reports on tobacco issues demonstrated low overall quality and relied primarily on anecdotal evidence. The systematic review of increased MLAs for tobacco written by the Institute of Medicine diffused quickly into popular reporting, suggesting that this type of evidence might improve research translation.

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