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Smoking or My Job? US Media Coverage of Nonsmoker-Only Hiring Policies.

  • Author(s): McDaniel, Patricia A
  • Cadman, Brie
  • Offen, Naphtali
  • Malone, Ruth E
  • et al.

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Media advocacy plays a critical role in tobacco control, shaping the content of news in ways that generate public support for tobacco control. We examined US media coverage of nonsmoker-only hiring policies, which have little US public support, exploring the extent to which tobacco control advocates and experts have engaged the media on this controversial issue.

We searched online media databases (Lexis Nexis, Access World News, and Proquest) for articles published from 1995-2013, coding retrieved items through a collaborative, iterative process. We analyzed the volume, type, provenance, prominence, content and slant of coverage.

We found 1,159 media items on nonsmoker-only hiring policies, most published in local newspapers in regions where such policies were enacted. The most common reason given for implementing such policies was to reduce healthcare costs. Most news items offered reasons both to support and oppose such policies; thus, the slant of the majority of news items was neutral or mixed. Tobacco control advocates or experts were infrequently cited or quoted in news items, and rarely authored opinion pieces. Those who expressed opinions were more likely to support than oppose nonsmoker-only hiring policies, for economic and health reasons. Ethical concerns about the policies were seldom raised.

As presented in the media, nonsmoker-only hiring policies were primarily framed in terms of business cost savings and had little connection to health initiatives. Tobacco control advocates were rarely quoted and their positions were not consistent. Given their intrusiveness and the lack of strong evidence that such business policies actually do improve worker health, tobacco control advocates may feel that the status quo is preferable to engaging on a policy that the majority of Americans dislike.

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