Documents show tobacco industry's attempts to influence journalists' reporting on secondhand smoke

08/06/04

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- A study based on the tobacco industry's own documents shows the extent of the tobacco industry's efforts to influence the print media on the health effects of secondhand smoke.

This study was co-authored by Mayo Clinic researchers Richard Hurt, M.D., and Monique Muggli, along with Lee Becker, Ph.D., at the University of Georgia. It involved a review of previously secret internal tobacco company documents that revealed the tobacco industry launched an extensive, multifaceted effort to influence the scientific debate about the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

The study purports that the tobacco industry attempted to derail public perception of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) risk assessment on secondhand smoke by recruiting a network of journalists to generate news articles supporting the industry's position and public relations messages about the secondhand smoke issue.

The authors also found that tobacco companies are attempting to influence journalists by financially supporting a U.S. school of journalism and planning to communicate their position through education programs targeting the media.

Dr. Hurt says that he is "no longer shocked at the extensive reach of the tobacco industry and what it does, but I am quite surprised that parts of the institution we call journalism can be so swayed to purposely mislead their readers on such an important public health issue as secondhand smoke."

The results of this study highlight the important but precarious role of the media in educating the public on secondhand smoke, says Dr. Hurt. The authors suggest that more scrutiny is warranted by media organizations of articles written by their reporters to insure the public is accurately informed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 35,000 coronary heart disease deaths occur annually among adult nonsmokers in the United States. Each year, secondhand smoke is associated with an estimated 8,000-26,000 new asthma cases in children, and an estimated 150,000-300,000 new cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in children aged less than 18 months, 7,500-15,000 of which will require hospitalization.

Authors of the report in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine are: Richard Hurt, M.D. and Monique Muggli of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center, and Lee Becker, Ph.D., from the James M. Cox, Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia. The full article is available at http://sciencedirect.com/science/journal/07493797.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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