A systematic investigation of tobacco industry sourced data relating to illicit tobacco trade featured in Pakistan’s media coverage (2015-2020)

Allen William Andrew Gallagher, Zaineb Danish Sheikh, Zohaib Khan, Urooj Aftab, Mariyam Rahim, Asad Ullah, Safat Ullah, Hessam Ul haq, Kamran Siddiqi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Previous evidence suggests the tobacco industry uses media to disseminate misleading narratives relating to illicit tobacco trade (ITT) as part of efforts to influence policy outcomes. Such evidence is largely High-Income Countries (HIC) focussed, resulting in a literature gap for Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). Pakistan and its annual budget cycle is used as a case study for addressing this gap.

Methods: Electronic English-language articles from newspapers in Pakistan (328) were sourced from LexisNexis and a sub-sample of Urdu-language electronic articles (12) were identified through internet searches.

The articles were published between 2015- 2020and included claims/estimates relating to ITT, which were coded to identify cited data sources. Changes in media coverage before and after Pakistan’s annual budget announcements were explored via Wilcoxon signed rank and Poisson regression tests.

Results: Of the 357 claims/estimates analysed, 66 (20%) were industry funded. The most prevalent sources were national government bodies (36.6%) and tobacco companies or their representatives (15.1%). Wilcoxon signed-rank and Poisson regression tests on the frequency of English-language articles both created a p-value of < 0.05 for the frequency of relevant articles between the months of April and May, compared to the other months, indicating statistical significance.

Conclusions: There was a statistically significant increase in the number of English-language articles featuring claims/estimates relating to Pakistan’s ITT in the months leading up to the annual budget each year. The government should consider measures to improve transparency standards within media coverage and promote factcheck journalism to safeguard against industry tactics to manipulate public discourses.

Implications: This paper is, to our knowledge, the largest exploration of the use of data sourced from the tobacco industry within a country’s media that has been undertaken to date, utilising a team of seven coders across the UK and Pakistan. Our findings reveal weaknesses within media coverage of ITT in Pakistan, both in English and Urdu language publications. We encourage the government to consider new standards to enhance transparency and promote factcheck journalism within media coverage in the country.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberntae133
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Early online date31 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2024

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