Sheila Duffy is the Chief Executive of ASH Scotland. The authors declare no additional conflicts of interest.
CP and KW coded articles and contributed to the development and refinement of the coding frame. CP analysed the data and drafted the initial manuscript. SS and SD contributed to the direction of the analysis and manuscript. SH developed the study design and contributed to the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
What is already known on this subject?
Laws prohibiting smoking in enclosed public spaces have been effective in the UK and internationally, but second-hand smoke (SHS) remains a risk in the enclosed private spaces of homes and vehicles, particularly to children. Further legislation might further limit children’s exposure to SHS by prohibiting smoking in private vehicles carrying children. Media framing has been demonstrated to influence audiences’ attitudes towards issues, and media content has been found to influence public understandings of SHS. Frames that identify children as victims may be particularly persuasive. Improving understandings of mass media representations of issues surrounding second-hand smoking could help to improve public health policy development and advocacy.
What this study adds?
This study illustrates how UK national newspapers represented the issues of children’s exposure to second-hand smoke. Articles frequently identified SHS as a threat to children, who were characterised as victims. Arguments in favour of legislation to prohibit smoking in private vehicles carrying children were mentioned more frequently than arguments opposing the legislation, although there was a late increase in critical arguments towards the end of the sample period, coinciding with a vote in favour of the legislation in the UK House of Commons. We suggest that public health advocates engaged in media debates around legislation may benefit from highlighting the vulnerability of children, and should prepare for surges in opposition arguments preceding policy events.
Mass media representations of health issues influence public perceptions of those issues. Despite legislation prohibiting smoking in public spaces, second-hand smoke (SHS) remains a health risk in the United Kingdom (UK). Further legislation might further limit children’s exposure to SHS by prohibiting smoking in private vehicles carrying children. This research was designed to determine how UK national newspapers represented the debate around proposed legislation to prohibit smoking in private vehicles carrying children.
Quantitative analysis of the manifest content of 422 articles about children and SHS published in UK and Scottish newspapers between 1st January 2003 and 16th February 2014. Researchers developed a coding frame incorporating emergent themes from the data. Each article was double-coded.
The frequency of relevant articles rose and fell in line with policy debate events. Children were frequently characterised as victims of SHS, and SHS was associated with various health risks. Articles discussing legislation targeting SHS in private vehicles carrying children presented supportive arguments significantly more frequently than unsupportive arguments.
The relatively positive representation of legislation prohibiting smoking in vehicles carrying children is favourable to policy advocates, and potentially indicative of likely public acceptance of legislation. Our findings support two lessons that public health advocates may consider: the utility of presenting children as a vulnerable target population, and the possibility of late surges in critical arguments preceding policy events.