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Press Coverage of Public Expenditure of Master Settlement Agreement Funds: How Are Non-Tobacco Control Related Expenditure Represented?

Clegg-Smith KM, Wakefield MA and Nichter M. Tobacco Control, 12: 257-263, 2003.

Objective: To examine newspaper reports of Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) allocation decisions outside of tobacco control, focusing on the arguments being put forth in favour of competing claims on MSA funds. The major aims were to identify newsworthy non-tobacco control areas for which MSA funds have been applied and to examine how non-tobacco control spending has been presented through the US press.

Design: A qualitative textual analysis was performed on 94 articles taken from a sample of 322 newspapers over a 12 month period (October 2000 through September 2001) that related to the allocation of MSA funds to non-tobacco control causes. Articles were coded for general content areas of MSA allocation as well as for rhetorical and framing devices employed to explain and justify allocation decisions.

Main outcome measures: (1) Areas of non-tobacco control allocation; (2) rhetorical devices and framing techniques employed in the articles to discuss the allocation.

Results: The analysis identified a wide variety of issues for which MSA funds were being appropriated. Three main frames emerged in relation to justifying or appealing for particular spending decisions: (1) funds should be allocated to the needy and/or the deserving; (2) funds should be spent on state development; (3) funds should be put towards helping the state weather a crisis. Claims for each such issue were made using strategies such as presenting the MSA funds as a “windfall”, focusing coverage on the merits of the cause rather than the issue of resource allocation, and stressing links between the particular claim and the stated objectives of the MSA.

Conclusions: Press coverage of MSA non-tobacco control spending suggests that the funds have been quickly formulated as fodder for state spending, rather than to support tobacco control efforts. Thus, caution is required in pursuing settlements with the industry where the objective is better funding for tobacco control efforts, particularly in light of the possibility that press coverage of MSA allocation may actually serve as positive publicity for the tobacco industry.

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