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Media Messages May Reduce Secondhand Smoke in Homes

Armen Hareyan's picture

Secondhand smoke

People who see news stories and advertisements about the dangers of secondhand smoke are more likely to feel that it is harmful, and may restrict smoking at home, according to new research published in the American Journal of Health Behavior.

The study by W. Douglas Evans, of the nonprofit research corporation RTI International, and colleagues found that anti-secondhand smoke media messages have a strong indirect effect on smoking restrictions in the home.

Anti-secondhand smoke media account for 10 percent of people's negative attitudes about secondhand smoke, but these negative attitudes explain nearly 60 percent of home smoking restrictions, Evans said.

"Media work through changing people's attitudes to get them to change home smoking rules," he said.

People may "have to process the information" they get from the media through family discussions or through one person in a household taking a strong position on secondhand smoke before the change in attitude becomes a change in home restrictions, Evans suggested.

According to 2003 statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke exposure is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Secondhand smoke exposure has been linked to lung cancer and heart disease in adults and severe respiratory infections and asthma, particularly in infants and young children.

The researchers measured the link between anti-secondhand smoke messages and home restrictions through a survey of 2,348 adults conducted by the American Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit anti-smoking foundation. About 23 percent of those surveyed were current smokers.

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Researchers asked the survey participants whether they had seen news stories or ads about "the dangers of kids being around cigarette smoke" and "efforts to ban smoking in public places," among other questions. They also asked the participants to agree or disagree with statements such as, "It is harmful to a person's health if they live in a house where a smoker smokes tobacco indoors" or, "Inhaling someone else's cigarette smoke can cause lung cancer in nonsmokers."

Only 11 percent of those surveyed lived in a house with no smoking restrictions, while 65 percent of those surveyed had complete smoking bans within their homes.

Evans and colleagues say their study shows that a concerted media campaign could be an effective way of reducing secondhand smoke exposure.

"Our evidence suggests that if money were spent on it, it would be effective. The question is where to get the money," Evans said.

Boston University Public School of Health professor Michael Siegel, M.D., an expert in health communication and smoking behavior, agrees that secondhand smoke messages have been sidelined sometimes in favor of more direct appeals for quitting and preventing smoking.

"The funding for anti-smoking media campaigns has been greatly slashed in almost every state that has had such a campaign," Siegel said. "The campaign in Massachusetts has been completely eliminated. The campaign in Florida was all but eliminated. With the limited funding available, I think groups running these campaigns have chosen to focus on smoking prevention and cessation and haven't had the funds to have the 'luxury' of addressing the secondhand smoke issue," Siegel said.

Cigarette maker Philip Morris USA did not respond to requests for comment on how they have addressed the issue of secondhand smoke.

The Evans study was supported by the American Legacy Foundation.