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BMC Public Health. 2014 Oct 29;14:1116. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-1116.

Newsprint coverage of smoking in cars carrying children: a case study of public and scientific opinion driving the policy debate.

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MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Top Floor, 200 Renfield Street, Glasgow G2 3QB, UK.



Media content has been shown to influence public understandings of second-hand smoke. Since 2007 there has been legislation prohibiting smoking in all enclosed public places throughout the United Kingdom (UK). In the intervening period, interest has grown in considering other policy interventions to further reduce the harms of second-hand smoke exposure. This study offers the first investigation into how the UK newsprint media are framing the current policy debate about the need for smoke-free laws to protect children from the harms of second-hand smoke exposure whilst in vehicles.


Qualitative content analysis was conducted on relevant articles from six UK and three Scottish national newspapers. Articles published between 1st January 2004 and 16th February 2014 were identified using the electronic database Nexis UK. A total of 116 articles were eligible for detailed coding and analysis that focused on the harms of second-hand smoke exposure to children in vehicles.


Comparing the period of 2004-2007 and 2008-2014 there has been an approximately ten-fold increase in the number of articles reporting on the harms to children of second-hand smoke exposure in vehicles. Legislative action to prohibit smoking in vehicles carrying children was largely reported as necessary, enforceable and presented as having public support. It was commonly reported that whilst people were aware of the general harms associated with second-hand smoke, drivers were not sufficiently aware of how harmful smoking around children in the confined space of the vehicle could be.


The increased news reporting on the harms of second-hand smoke exposure to children in vehicles and recent policy debates indicate that scientific and public interest in this issue has grown over the past decade. Further, advocacy efforts might draw greater attention to the success of public-space smoke-free legislation which has promoted a change in attitudes, behaviours and social norms. Efforts might also specifically highlight the particular issue of children's developmental vulnerability to second-hand smoke exposure, the dangers posed by smoking in confined spaces such as vehicles, and the appropriate measures that should be taken to reduce the risk of harm.

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