The media’s role in cancer and tobacco control

Recently, the Cancer Control Office (CCO) at King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) conducted a study to measure the coverage of tobacco control issues in print, radio and TV media during the period of 2007- 2012. During this period (in 2008) the announcement of Jordan’s public health law, which prohibits smoking in public places, was made. Thus the study sought to track tobacco control coverage in the periods that preceded and proceeded the announcement.

In a random sample that included various local newspapers, radio, and TV, the study found a substantial increase in media coverage: 85 tobacco control topics were covered in 2007, while in the years following the announcement, coverage increased to reach 250 topics in 2011 and 2012. Topics covered by media were varied and included the harms of tobacco use, public health law, exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) and tobacco dependence treatment as well as the economic burden of tobacco use as taxation & smuggling.

The study specifically showed a significant growth in media’s coverage of tobacco dependence treatment, with coverage increasing 7-fold between 2007 and 2012. In addition, media’s coverage of protection from exposure to SHS doubled.

The growth in media coverage of various tobacco control topics suggests that media is becoming more attentive regarding tobacco control and the importance of its coverage as a public issue.

Given that tobacco use is an epidemic that threatens human life, and ideally requires community involvement to combat, media plays a key role in shaping tobacco-related knowledge, opinions, attitudes, and behaviors among individuals and communities. Thus, journalists and representatives of the media sector are potentially working on shaping community awareness regarding many critical issues, such as the dangers of tobacco use, the importance of enforcing the public health law to protect people from SHS, the benefits of quitting smoking and the treatment of tobacco dependence.

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King Hussein Cancer Foundation and Center (KHCF & KHCC) continuously engages the media sector in tobacco control activities in order to enhance their coverage on the tobacco epidemic. Examples of such activities include:

Holding a national workshop to launch the report of the “Status Quo of Tobacco Control in Jordan” in June 2013: KHCF & KHCC In addition to many governmental and non-governmental organizations, and civil society groups, the media sector was also included in this workshop. The report included many conclusions regarding the status of tobacco control in Jordan but, particularly relevant to the media, the report highlighted (through a field survey) the community’s call for the media to enhance and increase coverage of tobacco control issues.

Launching of an anti-tobacco media competition by KHCF & KHCC in April 2013 in celebration of the World No Tobacco Day: This competition aimed to encourage journalists and the media sector to use their skills to develop unique and informative anti-tobacco media clips or writing. Radio and televised reports; news stories; columns and investigative reports in local newspapers; magazine entries; websites/electronic articles; and social media tweets and posts on Twitter and Facebook were all options that could be used by those participating in the competition.

Conducting a workshop entitled: “Media and the Awareness about Cancer and Tobacco” in 2011 by KHCC: The workshop targeted the media sector (print, TV, radio, and online media) and aimed to strengthen KHCC-KHCF’s partnership with the media as well as improve communications with local media. The workshop addressed different topics such as challenges that the media may face in covering cancer and tobacco control; the need to enhance and increase media coverage as a way of spreading community awareness and reducing preventable diseases caused by tobacco use; and possible solutions that may facilitate media’s coverage of cancer and tobacco control.

In order to ensure continuous and comprehensive coverage of cancer and tobacco control efforts, KHCC emphasizes the need and benefit of sustaining and furthering communication channels between the media sector and the health sector. Accordingly, KHCC is available to answer media inquiries about tobacco control and provide them with important updates in the field. Furthermore, the CCO at KHCC is performing daily media monitoring to track media coverage in the field of tobacco control and be able to show trends in media coverage.

About the Author: Aisha Shtaiwi is the Communication and Outreach Specialist at the Cancer Control Office at KHCC. She works closely with the media as well as the community in the field of cancer control and tobacco control.