Background The Union-Bloomberg Initiative tobacco control projects were implemented in Himachal Pradesh (a hilly state in North India) from 2007 to 2014. The project focused on the establishment of an administrative framework; increasing the capacity of stakeholders; enforcement of legislation; coalition and networking with multiple stakeholders; awareness generation with focus on earned media and monitoring and evaluation with policy-focussed research. This study aimed to systematically analyse all earned print news items related to the projects.
Methods In this cross-sectional descriptive study, quantitative content analysis of earned print news items was carried out using predetermined codes related to areas of tobacco control policies. We also carried out a cost description of the hypothetical value of this earned media. The area of the news item in cm2 was multiplied by the average rate of space for the paid news item in that particular newspaper.
Results There were 6348 news items: the numbers steadily increased with time. Focus on Monitoring tobacco use, Protecting people from tobacco smoke, Offering help to quit, Warning about dangers of tobacco, Enforcing a ban on tobacco advertising and promotion, Raising tax on tobacco products was seen in 24, 17, 9, 23, 22 and 3% of news items, respectively. Press releases were highest at 44% and report by correspondents at 24%. Further, 55, 23 and 21% news items focused on smoking, smokeless and both forms of tobacco use, respectively. Sixty-six per cent and 34% news items, respectively, were focused on youth and women. The news items had a hypothetical value of US$1503 628.3, which was three times more than the funds spent on all project activities.
Conclusions In the absence of funding for paid media, the project strategically used earned media to promote tobacco control policies in the state.
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