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News Media Misrepresent Deaths Caused by Illicit Drugs, Tobacco


September-October 1997

The print media's representation of deaths related to illicit drugs and tobacco is inconsistent with actual mortality rates, according to a report published in the American Journal of Public Health. The authors found that "there were substantial disparities between actual causes of death and the amount of coverage given those causes in the print media." Deaths related to tobacco use were underrepresented, with only 4% of mortality-related text in 1990 devoted to tobacco-related deaths, versus the 19% of all deaths that were caused by tobacco that year. Conversely, deaths caused by illicit drugs in 1990 were overrepresented by the news media. Illicit drugs represented 17% of mortality-related text, compared to the 1% of all deaths having been caused by illicit drugs in 1990 (Frost, et al., "Relative Risk in the News Media: A Quantification of Misrepresentation," American Journal of Public Health, 1997, 87(5), pp. 842-845; "Study Finds That the Media Overemphasize Illicit Drug-Related Deaths; Underemphasizes Tobacco-Related Deaths, CESAR Fax, September 15, 1997, vol. 6, no. 36).