Research attention on smokeless tobacco (SLT) has focused on SLT use, health risks, harm-reduction potential, and risk perceptions, but few studies have examined mediated communications about SLT. This study aims to contribute to the literature by providing the first description of SLT coverage in the news, an important communication channel given its ability to educate and shape public opinion about tobacco issues.Methods:
A content analysis was conducted on SLT-related news and opinion articles between 2006 and 2010 from top circulating national and state newspapers and select news wires. Articles were coded for the main SLT topic, SLT risk references, and slant of opinion articles.Results:
SLT was discussed in news/feature articles (n = 677) in terms of business (28%), new products, product regulation and harm reduction (19%), prevention/cessation (11.4%), taxation (10.2%), profiles/trends in use (9%), bans (8.1%), and tobacco industry promotional activities (4.9%). Health risk references (i.e., addictiveness, carcinogenicity, and specific health effects including oral cancer) were found in 40% of articles, though frequency differed by article topic. Although the majority of opinion articles (n = 176) conveyed an anti-SLT slant (64%), 25.6% were pro-SLT.Conclusions:
SLT topics of both national and local importance are covered in the news. Public health professionals can participate in SLT coverage by sending in press releases about new study findings, events, or resources and by submitting opinion pieces to share views or respond to previous coverage. Research on SLT news should continue given its potential to shape the public’s SLT knowledge and opinions.