'Alternative fact' narrative influencing tobacco control: a case study of tobacco industry interference in print media
 
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Verité Research, Economics, Sri Lanka
Publication date: 2018-03-01
 
Tob. Induc. Dis. 2018;16(Suppl 1):A458
 
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ABSTRACT
Background:
Sri Lanka saw a rise in misleading and false information on tobacco statistics in 2017. Vernacular press reported on government revenue decreasing, beedi smokers rising and illegal tobacco products reporting high growth without verifiable sources. Such articles were repeatedly published.
The rise of false information followed the government increasing cigarette taxes between 20-80% across five length categories. The increase in taxes was implemented to reconcile a gap created by over a decade of poor tax policies. While the increase was welcome by the public, media reported the tax increase would result in reducing government revenue and livelihood of tobacco farmers; neither of which were verified. It was evident that the tobacco industry which was concentrating on influencing taxation now was changing the narrative to change public opinion against tobacco control through misinformation.
This study aims to identify the loopholes in the Sri Lanka's laws and regulations (National Authority for Tobacco (NATA) Act and media Code of Conduct) and identify thematic areas that are targeted by the tobacco industry in spreading misinformation.

Methods:
The period of analysis was September 2016 to October 2017 and all articles related to tobacco was firstly checked against the laws and media ethic guidelines. It then followed a case study method to thematically group the key narrative of selected articles.

Results:
Findings reveal the articles violated three codes under the media Code of Conduct and vague description on 'tobacco advertisement' as an article in the NATA Act caused confusion on its legal standing. The case study also revealed four thematic areas with false information.

Conclusions:
The study draws attention to tobacco industry interference in using media to change the narrative on tobacco control. It also provides highlights the significance of a national tobacco data platform and engaging with journalists to combat the tobacco epidemic.

eISSN:1617-9625