Vulnerable children, stigmatised smokers: The social construction of target audiences in media debates on policies regulating smoking in vehicles

Josh Bain, Heide Weishaar, Sean Semple, Sheila Duffy, Shona Hilton

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Following restrictions on smoking in vehicles carrying children in several countries, legislation to safeguard minors from second-hand smoke exposure in vehicles is under-consideration or has been implemented across the United Kingdom. This article presents the first investigation into social constructions of children, smokers and smoking parents in newsprint media and coverage of debates about protecting children from exposure to second-hand smoke in vehicles. Using Scotland as an example, articles on children's exposure to second-hand smoke published between 1 January 2004 and 16 February 2014 in three Scottish newspapers were identified using Nexis UK. In all, 131 articles were thematically coded and analysed. Children were portrayed as vulnerable and requiring protection, with few articles highlighting children's ability to voice concerns about the dangers of smoking. Smokers and smoking parents were mainly portrayed in a factual manner, but also frequently as irresponsible and, in some cases, intentionally imposing harm. Individual smokers were blamed for their recklessness, with only a small number of articles mentioning the need to assist smokers in quitting. Supporters of legislation focused on corresponding discourse, whereas critics directed debates towards established arguments against policy, including individual freedom, privacy and problems of enforcement. Focusing on children's vulnerability to second-hand smoke might have increased support for legislation but risked a side effect of smokers being stigmatised. The media and supporters of public health policy are encouraged to consider appropriate approaches to raise awareness of the health harms of second-hand smoke to children while avoiding unintended stigmatisation of those in which they want to encourage behaviour change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-649
Number of pages17
JournalHealth (London, England : 1997)
Issue number6
Early online date24 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

S.H., S.S. and S.D. developed the study concept and gained funding for the work. S.H. developed the study design. J.B. and H.W. drafted the manuscript. J.B. and H.W. developed the coding frame and coded the articles. S.H., S.S. and S.D. critically revised the manuscript.

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This project was funded by Cancer Research UK (C47682/A16930) and the Scottish School of Public Health Research. Sheila Duffy is Chief Executive of ASH Scotland. Heide Weishaar and Shona Hilton are funded by the UK Medical Research Council as part of the Informing Healthly Public Policy programme (MC_UU12017-15) at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow. The authors declare no additional conflicting interest.


  • children
  • media analysis
  • second-hand smoke exposure
  • smoking in vehicles
  • stigmatisation


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