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J Health Commun. 2012;17(4):443-59. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2011.635773. Epub 2012 Feb 29.

"Anti-smoking data are exaggerated" versus "the data are clear and indisputable": examining letters to the editor about tobacco.

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  • 1a Center for Tobacco Policy Research, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63112, USA. srussell@gwbmail.wustl.edu


Media advocacy plays a unique role in tobacco control policy development. Letters to the editor in particular are an interesting form of media advocacy because they reflect community sentiment regarding the policy agenda and provide insight into the public debate. The authors used ethnographic context analysis to examine the techniques used by writers of 262 tobacco-related letters to the editor published in 61 newspapers across Missouri over a 2-year period when tobacco tax and smoke-free indoor air initiatives were occurring across the state. The authors found that pro-tobacco control letter writers often used didactic strategies, citing numbers and reports, to convey information and presented their training or experience as a health professional (e.g., M.D., Ph.D.) to add legitimacy to their arguments. Anti-tobacco control letter writers, in contrast, used narrative strategies to support their stance, claimed authority as a smoker or small business owner to legitimize their claims by relating to the audience, and used collectivity to capture the attention of policymakers. These results present the importance of strategic media advocacy in tobacco control. Tobacco control advocates should increase their use of narrative strategies and collectivity in order to better connect with the public and policymakers.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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