Tobacco Control Resource Center Ensures That Media Coverage of Tobacco-Related Legal Rulings Includes Public Health Issues
From December 2001 to December 2004, the Tobacco Control Resource Center in Boston maintained a project to inject a public health perspective into media coverage of key legal rulings related to tobacco use.
- The project contributed material to 806 articles or broadcast pieces on tobacco rulings.
- Project staff placed three op-ed columns and 45 letters to the editor.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided an unsolicited grant of $388,715 to support this work.
The 1990s saw a series of notable judicial rulings regarding the responsibility of the tobacco industry for the health impacts of its products. Public health advocates generally lack the resources to respond or use these rulings as an opportunity to educate the public about the harms of tobacco.
The tobacco industry, however, responded to these decisions with a public relations effort interpreting the rulings in ways that put the industry in the most favorable light, according to the Tobacco Control Resource Center, a division of the Boston-based Public Health Advocacy Institute.
Founded in 1979 by doctors, academics and attorneys, the center serves as an umbrella organization that implements tobacco control projects.
The RWJF grant permitted attorneys affiliated with the Tobacco Control Resource Center to reach out to the media with information about the public health significance of legal developments related to the tobacco industry. This effort included producing materials for publication and reaching out to reporters. The project:
- Cultivated relationships with about 40 reporters nationwide who covered legal issues on tobacco, providing background materials and key documents and alerting them to impending legal decisions. Specific efforts included:
- Calling up wire service reporters to provide quotes and information after an initial story had run with comments largely from the industry's perspective. The project's comments often appeared in a later version.
- Contacting reporters when a tobacco trial was beginning in their geographic area, supplying background information and providing analysis when the case was resolved.
- Contacting reporters who did not typically cover courts but had tobacco as their beat. Staff provided reporters with background on the legal system to prepare them to write about tobacco rulings in the future.
- Produced 63 media backgrounders and press releases on legal decisions in tobacco cases.
- Redesigned the organization's Web site to make it easier for journalists to find the latest information on tobacco cases and additional resources related to tobacco news stories.
Over the four years of the project, the number of legal cases involving tobacco companies dropped sharply. With fewer legal developments to report on, media outlets tended not to cover tobacco issues as much, even when new legal decisions came out. To address this issue, project staff began contacting reporters to alert them to stories that they might otherwise miss. They also placed more letters to the editor in newspapers.
- Contributed material to 806 articles or broadcast pieces on tobacco rulings. Quotes from project staff on the public health significance of these rulings appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Time magazine, as well as electronic outlets such as the BBC, NBC, CBS News, ABC News, MSNBC and CNN.
- Placed three op-ed columns and 45 letters to the editor. Letters to the editor and op-eds appeared in, among other papers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald, Daily Oklahoman, Oregonian and Cleveland Plain Dealer. See the Bibliography for details about the op ed pieces.
- Communicating directly with reporters is a more effective way to get media coverage than issuing press releases. Project spokespersons were quoted in hundreds of news articles because they took the time to find the reporters who cover these issues, establish a relationship with them and provide them timely and useful information. (Project Director)
AFTER THE GRANT
After RWJF funding ended, the project received $15,000 from individual donations to continue the work on a smaller scale. As of November 2006, staff members at the Tobacco Control Resource Center, continued to provide reporters with information on legal developments in tobacco control.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Project to Enhance Reporting on Legal Developments in Tobacco
Tobacco Control Resource Center (Boston, MA)
Dates: December 2000 to November 2004
Richard A. Daynard, J.D., Ph.D.
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Sweda EL. "High Court Ruling Clears Air on Local Smoke-free Laws." Berkshire Trade & Commerce (Pittsfield, Mass.), March 2001.
Sweda EL. "Passive Smoke Is Not Only About Cancer." Sunday Standard-Times (New Bedford, Mass.), March 11, 2001.
Sweda EL. "Big Tobacco's Words Don't Match Actions." Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.), August 24, 2001.
World Wide Web Sites
www.tobacco.neu.edu. Web site of the Tobacco Control Resource Center, with news, analysis and background materials on legal issues regarding tobacco use.
Report prepared by: Susan G. Parker
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Karen Gerlach