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News media representations of electronic cigarettes: an analysis of newspaper coverage in the UK and Scotland

1/11/2014 - Tobacco control

OBJECTIVE: Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) have recently been attracting interest for their potential as a less harmful alternative to smoking, their rising popularity and the regulatory issues they raise. The news media can play an important role in shaping public perceptions of new technologies. It is, therefore, important to understand the ways the news media present ENDS. This paper examines how ENDS are represented in the UK and in the Scottish press. METHODS: Twelve national UK and Scottish newspapers and the three most popular online news sources were searched between 2007 and 2012. A thematic analysis was conducted to explore how the meanings, uses and users of ENDS are presented, and whether and how this has changed. RESULTS: Newspaper coverage of ENDS increased substantially over this period. Five key themes emerged from the analysis: getting around smokefree legislation; risk and uncertainty; healthier choice; celebrity use; price. CONCLUSIONS: Drawing on the diffusion of innovations theory, we suggest that newspaper constructions of ENDS provide readers with important information about what ENDS are for, how they work, and their relative advantages. These themes, and dominance of more positive meanings, raise a number of issues for tobacco control, including concerns around celebrity use and promotion; the impact of increasing ENDS use on social norms around smoking; their potential to undermine smokefree legislation; and their promotion as effective cessation aids.
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