“Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire”: A Content Analysis of Print and Web-Based News Media Reporting of the Philip Morris–Funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (2019)

Authors: Christina Watts and Becky Freeman

Abstract

Background: In September 2017, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), a not-for-profit organization with a core purpose “to accelerate global efforts to reduce deaths and harm from smoking” was launched. However, the legitimacy of the FSFW’s vision has been questioned by experts in tobacco control because of the organization’s only funding partner, Philip Morris International (PMI).

Objective: This study aimed to examine the response to the FSFW in Web-based and print news media to understand how the FSFW and its funding partner, PMI, were framed.

Methods: News articles published within a 6-month period after the FSFW was announced were downloaded via Google News and Factiva and coded for topic, framing argument, slant, mention of tobacco control policies, and direct quotes or position statements.

Results: A total of 124 news articles were analyzed. The news coverage of the FSFW was framed by 6 key arguments. Over half of the news articles presented a framing argument in opposition to the FSFW (64/124, 51.6%). A further 20.2% (25/124) of articles framed the FSFW positively and 28.2% of articles (35/124) presented a neutral debate with no primary slant. The FSFW was presented as not credible because of the funding link to PMI in 29.0% (36/124) of articles and as a tactic to mislead and undermine effective tobacco control measures in 11.3% of articles (14/124). However, 12.9% of articles (16/124) argued that the FSFW or PMI is part of the solution to reducing the impact of tobacco use. Evidence-based tobacco control policies were mentioned positively in 66.9% (83/124) of news articles and 9.6% (12/124) of articles presented tobacco control policies negatively.

Conclusions: The Web-based and print news media reporting of the formation of the FSFW and its mission and vision has primarily been framed by doubt, skepticism, and disapproval.

Read more: JMIR Public Health and Surveillance