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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers Study Analyzes News Coverage of E-Cigarettes in the Year Before FDA Regulation

Rutgers School of Public Health study finds that articles discussing the need for and importance of FDA regulation dominated news stories about electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in the year leading up to their inclusion under FDA regulation. These stories frequently discussed concerns about the use and appeal of e-cigarettes to youth. The study, published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, analyzed e-cigarette discussion in popular print and online U.S. news sources.

The study also analyzed the types of potential risks and benefits discussed in e-cigarette news stories. Researchers from the Center for Tobacco Studies at the Rutgers School of Public Health analyzed 295 articles, which mentioned well defined e-cigarette terms, from the 30 top-circulating newspapers in the U.S and popular online U.S. news sources in 2015, the year before the FDA asserted its authority over e-cigarettes. Their overall findings suggest that news articles more frequently discussed potential e-cigarette risks than benefits, such as harm reduction. Risks and benefits of e-cigarette use were most frequently discussed in articles by researchers and physicians, who are typically seen as reliable and trusted sources of information. In contrast, industry sources cited in articles largely emphasized only potential e-cigarette benefits.

This study suggests that news coverage of e-cigarettes may be an important vehicle in informing the general public about the potential risks of e-cigarettes, but may also contribute to misconceptions about their potential harm relative to combustible cigarette smoking.

According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Olivia Wackowski, of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, “news coverage has been a traditional source of information about tobacco products that can shape our opinion of these products. The news framing of e-cigarettes as something potentially dangerous and in need of regulation may play a role in support for related policy actions, but may also contribute to growing misperceptions that e-cigarettes are just as harmful as cigarettes.”

[Photo: Dr. Olivia Wackowski, PhD]

This news story content analysis is part of a five year R01 from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) focused on the communication of e-cigarettes. Senior author and PI on the NCI grant,
Dr. Cristine Delnevo, vice dean at Rutgers, comments that “e-cigarette communication will evolve especially in context of the Food and Drug Administration’s recent changes which will facilitate product innovation for the lowest risk products such as e-cigarettes and vaporizers, and our study is designed to capture changes in e-cigarette communications over time.”

“Content analysis of U.S. news stories about e-cigarettes in 2015” was published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research.