US Media Coverage of Tobacco Industry Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives


Media coverage of tobacco industry corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives represents a competitive field where tobacco control advocates and the tobacco industry vie to shape public and policymaker understandings about tobacco control and the industry. Through a content analysis of 649 US news items, we examined US media coverage of tobacco industry CSR and identified characteristics of media items associated with positive coverage. Most coverage appeared in local newspapers, and CSR initiatives unrelated to tobacco, with non-controversial beneficiaries, were most commonly mentioned. Coverage was largely positive. Tobacco control advocates were infrequently cited as sources and rarely authored opinion pieces; however, when their voices were included, coverage was less likely to have a positive slant. Media items published in the South, home to several tobacco company headquarters, were more likely than those published in the West to have a positive slant. The absence of tobacco control advocates from media coverage represents a missed opportunity to influence opinion regarding the negative public health implications of tobacco industry CSR. Countering the media narrative of virtuous companies doing good deeds could be particularly beneficial in the South, where the burdens of tobacco-caused disease are greatest, and coverage of tobacco companies more positive.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Smith, K. C., Wakefield, M., & Edsall, E. (2006). The good news about smoking: How do U.S. newspapers cover tobacco issues? Journal of Public Health Policy, 27(2), 166–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1993). The evolution of agenda-setting research: Twenty-five years in the marketplace of ideas. Journal of Communication, 43(2), 58–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36(2), 176–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Caburnay, C. A., Kreuter, M. W., Luke, D. A., et al. (2003). The news on health behavior: coverage of diet, activity, and tobacco in local newspapers. Health Education & Behavior, 30(6), 709–722.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Wallack, L., & Dorfman, L. (1996). Media advocacy: A strategy for advancing policy and promoting health. Health Education Quarterly, 23(3), 293–317.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Smith, K. C., McLeod, K., & Wakefield, M. (2005). Australian letters to the editor on tobacco: Triggers, rhetoric, and claims to legitimate voice. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1180–1198.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Asbridge, M. (2004). Public place restrictions on smoking in Canada: Assessing the role of the state, media, science and public health advocacy. Social Science & Medicine, 58, 13–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Niederdeppe, J., Farrelly, M. C., & Wenter, D. (2007). Media advocacy, tobacco control policy change and teen smoking in Florida. Tobacco Control, 16(1), 47–52.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Slater, M. D., Hayes, A. F., Reineke, J. B., Long, M. A., & Bettinghaus, E. P. (2009). Newspaper coverage of cancer prevention: Multilevel evidence for knowledge gap effects. Journal of Communication, 59(3), 514.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Pollock, J. C., & Yulis, S. G. (2004). Nationwide newspaper coverage of physician-assisted suicide: A community structure approach. Journal of Health Communication, 9(4), 281–307.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Chapman, S. (2007). Public health advocacy and tobacco control: Making smoking history. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Dorfman, L., Wallack, L., & Woodruff, K. (2005). More than a message: framing public health advocacy to change corporate practices. Health Education & Behavior, 32(3), 320–336.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Smith, K. C., Terry-McElrath, Y., Wakefield, M., & Durrant, R. (2005). Media advocacy and newspaper coverage of tobacco issues: a comparative analysis of 1 year’s print news in the United States and Australia. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 7(2), 289–299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Rowell, A., Evans-Reeves, K., & Gilmore, A. B. (2014). Tobacco industry manipulation of data on and press coverage of the illicit tobacco trade in the UK. Tobacco Control, 23(e1), e35–e43.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Smith, E. A. (2007). It’s interesting how few people die from smoking: Tobacco industry efforts to minimize risk and discredit health promotion. European Journal of Public Health, 17(2), 162–170.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Landman, A., Cortese, D. K., & Glantz, S. (2008). Tobacco industry sociological programs to influence public beliefs about smoking. Social Science and Medicine, 66(4), 970–981.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    McCandless, P. M., Yerger, V. B., & Malone, R. E. (2012). Quid pro quo: Tobacco companies and the Black press. American Journal of Public Health, 102(4), 739–750.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Muggli, M. E., Hurt, R. D., & Becker, L. B. (2004). Turning free speech into corporate speech: Philip Morris’ efforts to influence U.S. and European journalists regarding the U.S. EPA report on secondhand smoke. Preventive Medicine, 39(3), 568–580.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Thrasher, J. F., Kim, S. H., Rose, I., & Craft, M. K. (2015). Media coverage of smoke-free policies after their innovation. Journal of Health Communication, 20(3), 297–305.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    McDaniel, P. A., Offen, N., Yerger, V., Forsyth, S., & Malone, R. E. (2015). Tired of watching customers walk out the door because of the smoke: A content analysis of media coverage of voluntarily smokefree restaurants and bars. BMC Public Health, 15, 761.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Helme, D. W., Rayens, M. K., Kercsmar, S. E., et al. (2012). Rural print media portrayal of secondhand smoke and smoke-free policy. Health Promotion & Practice, 13(6), 848–856.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Thrasher, J. F., Kim, S. H., Rose, I., et al. (2014). Print media coverage around failed and successful tobacco tax initiatives: the South Carolina experience. American Journal of Health Promotion, 29(1), 29–36.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Eckler, P., Rodgers, S., & Everett, K. (2016). Characteristics of community newspaper coverage of tobacco control and its relationship to the passage of tobacco ordinances. Journal of Community Health, 41(5), 953–961.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Myers, A. E., Southwell, B. G., Ribisl, K. M., Moreland-Russell, S., Lytle, L. A. (2016). Setting the agenda for a healthy retail environment: content analysis of US newspaper coverage of tobacco control policies affecting the point of sale, 2007–2014. Tobacco Control. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-052998.

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    McDaniel, P. A., Cadman, B., & Malone, R. E. (2016). Shared vision, shared vulnerability: A content analysis of corporate social responsibility information on tobacco industry websites. Preventive Medicine, 89, 337–344.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Apollonio, D. E., & Malone, R. E. (2010). The “We Card” program: tobacco industry “youth smoking prevention” as industry self-preservation. American Journal of Public Health, 100(7), 1188–1201.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Tesler, L. E., & Malone, R. E. (2008). Corporate philanthropy, lobbying, and public health policy. American Journal of Public Health, 98(12), 2123–2133.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Fooks, G. J., & Gilmore, A. B. (2013). Corporate philanthropy, political influence, and health policy. PLoS ONE, 8(11), e80864.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Fooks, G. J., Gilmore, A. B., Smith, K. E., Collin, J., Holden, C., & Lee, K. (2011). Corporate social responsibility and access to policy elites: An analysis of tobacco industry documents. PLoS Medicine, 8(8), e1001076.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    McDaniel, P. A., & Malone, R. E. (2012). British American Tobacco’s partnership with Earthwatch Europe and its implications for public health. Global Public Health, 7(1), 14–28.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    McDaniel, P. A., & Malone, R. E. (2009). Creating the “desired mindset”: Philip Morris’s efforts to improve its corporate image among women. Women & Health, 49(5), 441–474.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Hirschhorn, N. (2004). Corporate social responsibility and the tobacco industry: hope or hype? Tobacco Control, 13(4), 447–453.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    McDaniel, P. A., Cadman, B., & Malone, R. E. (2016). African media coverage of tobacco industry corporate social responsibility initiatives. Global Public Health. doi:10.1080/17441692.2016.1149203

  35. 35.

    Gwet, K. (2008). Computing inter-rater reliability and its variance in the presence of high agreement. British Journal of Mathematics & Statistical Psychology, 61, 29–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Booth, A. (1970). The recall of news items. Public Opinion Quarterly, 34(4), 604–610.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Snapp, M. (2005, November 15). Berkeley Rep production draws protests. Contra Costa Times, p. F4.

  38. 38.

    The Lorillard tobacco company unveils youth smoking prevention program; cutting-edge ads to be broadcast. (1999, November 11). Business Wire.

  39. 39.

    Rep. Meehan secures $350,000 grant for Lawrence Boys and Girls Club. (2004, December 17). US Federal News.

  40. 40.

    Philip Morris to provide more than 1 million meals to the elderly in all 50 states. (1999, June 28). PR Newswire.

  41. 41.

    Weiss, T. (2001, May 29) Ad campaign filters image of Philip Morris. Hartford Courant, p. D1.

  42. 42.

    Blumenthal calls on National School Boards Association to end planned partnership with Big Tobacco youth tobacco prevention program. (2014, October 13). Targeted News Service.

  43. 43.

    Young, S. (2014, February 14). FDA launches teen anti-smoking campaign. CNN Wire.

  44. 44.

    Edwards, B. (1998, December 8). Philip Morris anti-smoking ads. National Public Radio.

  45. 45.

    Thompson, C. (2006, August 15). Pocket ashtrays meant to help curb litter on Buffalo streets. The Saratogian, p. 2A.

  46. 46.

    Torry, S. (1999, April 4). Philip Morris anti-smoking ads for teens spark suspicion. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, p. 10A.

  47. 47.

    Speakers criticize VCU for Philip Morris Pact. (2008, July 18). Newport News Daily Press, p. A11.

  48. 48.

    Kaufman, L. (2009, May 29). Cigarette butts: tiny trash that piles up. New York Times, p. A12.

  49. 49.

    Martz, M. (2000, July 20). United Way loses donors–Philip Morris to create its own foundation. Richmond Times-Dispatch.

  50. 50.

    Levy, M. (1998, May 3). Standing up for tobacco: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is friend, not just employer, in its hometown. Twin Cities Star Tribune, p. 1D.

  51. 51.

    Jarvis, S. (2000, November 20). They’re not quitting; Big Tobacco gets creative: within limits. Marketing News, p. 1.

  52. 52.

    Avila, L. (2004, July 27). VP: Philip Morris, Kraft, Parent Altria: A company with conscience. Naperville Sun, p. 11.

  53. 53.

    Timberg, C. (2000, July 20). Verdict leaves Va. capital uneasy about future of tobacco. Washington Post, p. B2.

  54. 54.

    Smith, G. (1999, August 29). Many hands push United Way drive. Charlotte Observer, p. 4K.

  55. 55.

    Tobacco firms should bottle victims’ oxygen. (2000, July 29). Madison Capital Times, p. 5F.

  56. 56.

    Associated Press. (2000, September 1). Community groups urged to reject tobacco’s giving. Stuart News, p. C7.

  57. 57.

    Andrews, K. T., & Caren, N. (2010). Making the news: movement organizations, media attention, and the public agenda. American Sociological Review, 75(6), 841–866.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Clayman, S. E., & Risner, A. (1998). Gatekeeping in action: Editorial conferences and assessments of newsworthiness. American Sociological Review, 63, 178–199.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    McDaniel, P. A., & Malone, R. E. (2005). Understanding Philip Morris’s pursuit of US government regulation of tobacco. Tobacco Control, 14(3), 193–200.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    McDaniel, P. A., & Malone, R. E. (2012). The “big WHY”: Philip Morris’s failed search for corporate social value. American Journal of Public Health, 102(10), 1942–1950.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Stossel J. (2001) 20/20: Give me a break. Accessed April 26, 2017, from

  62. 62.

    Carpenter, S. (2008). How online citizen journalism publications and online newspapers utilize the objectivity standard and rely on external sources. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 85(3), 531–548.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Walters, L. M., & Walters, T. N. (1992). Environment of confidence: daily newspaper use of press releases. Public Relations Review, 18(1), 31–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Smith, K. C., & Wakefield, M. (2005). Textual analysis of tobacco editorials: how are key media gatekeepers framing the issues? American Journal of Health Promotion, 19(5), 361–368.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Wallack, L., Woodruff, K., Dorfman, L., & Diaz, I. (1999). News for a change: an advocate’s guide to working with the media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Wakefield, M., Terry-McElrath, Y., Emery, S., et al. (2006). Effect of televised, tobacco company-funded smoking prevention advertising on youth smoking-related beliefs, intentions, and behavior. American Journal of Public Health, 96(12), 2154–2160.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Harris, J. L., Pierce, M., & Bargh, J. A. (2014). Priming effect of antismoking PSAs on smoking behaviour: A pilot study. Tobacco Control, 23(4), 285–290.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Peeters, S., & Gilmore, A. B. (2015). Understanding the emergence of the tobacco industry’s use of the term tobacco harm reduction in order to inform public health policy. Tobacco Control, 24(2), 182–189.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Barnes, D. E., & Bero, L. A. (1996). Industry-funded research and conflict of interest: an analysis of research sponsored by the tobacco industry through the Center for Indoor Air Research. Journal of Health Politics, Policy & Law, 21(3), 515–542.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Wallington, S. F., Blake, K., Taylor-Clark, K., & Viswanath, K. (2010). Antecedents to agenda setting and framing in health news: an examination of priority, angle, source, and resource usage from a national survey of US health reporters and editors. Journal of Health Communication, 15, 76–94.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Henley, S. J., Thomas, C. C., Sharapova, S. R., et al. (2016). Vital Signs: Disparities in Tobacco-Related Cancer Incidence and Mortality: United States, 2004–2013. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65(44), 1212–1218. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6544a3.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Wallack, L. M., Themba-Nixon, M., Dorfman, L., & Jernigan, D. (1993). Media advocacy and public health: power for prevention. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The project described was support by grant number R01CA120138 from the National Cancer Institute to Ruth E. Malone. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patricia A. McDaniel.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

McDaniel, P.A., Lown, E.A. & Malone, R.E. US Media Coverage of Tobacco Industry Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives. J Community Health 43, 117–127 (2018).

Download citation


  • Tobacco industry
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Media analysis
  • Local newspapers