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Research letter
Hyping health effects: a news analysis of the ‘new smoking’ and the role of sitting
  1. Josephine Y Chau1,2,
  2. Gillian Reyes-Marcelino3,
  3. Alexander CR Burnett1,2,
  4. Adrian E Bauman1,2,
  5. Becky Freeman1,2
  1. 1 Prevention Research Collaboration, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2 Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3 Central Clinical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Josephine Y Chau, Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; josephine.chau{at}

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Media reports of the ‘new smoking’ have proliferated with little consideration of the disease burden of emergent risk factors. We consider the example of prolonged sitting in particular. The ‘new smoking’ analogy is a powerful heuristic device that draws on the well-known dangers of tobacco smoking. Such attention-grabbing ‘factoids’ are rapidly disseminated and perpetuated,1 and can be difficult to dispel later.

We quantified which health risks have been called the ‘new smoking’ and consider the epidemiological evidence for and the implications of these comparisons. We searched the Factiva database for news stories containing the phrases ‘is the new smoking’ or ‘as bad as smoking’ in 2012–2016. News stories containing these phrases were independently coded for the health risk being compared with smoking, along with article characteristics (eg, headline, name of publication, date of publication).

Sitting and obesity dominate the media as ‘new smoking’

We identified 614 unique news stories that contained the target phrases. The top 10 mentioned health risks and behaviours compared with smoking are presented in table 1. The most dominant topics were sitting and obesity, with 55% and 12% of stories, respectively. The total number of ‘new smoking’ or ‘as …

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  • Twitter @jochau, @DrBFreeman, @AdrianBauman

  • Contributors JYC and BF conceived of this study. GR-M conducted the searches with guidance from JYC and BF. GR-M, ACRB and JYC analysed the data. JYC and GR-M drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to interpretation of results and critically reviewed and revised the manuscript.

  • Funding JYC was supported by a Postdoctoral Fellowship (#100567) from the National Heart Foundation of Australia. BF was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Fellowship (APP1089403).

  • Competing interests JYC has directly received consulting funds from the WHO and Bill Bellew Consulting Associates; and travel reimbursement from Marsh. BF has directly received travel reimbursement and/or consulting funds from the WHO, the Sax Institute, Cancer Council Australia, Cancer Council NSW, NSW Health, the Union for International Cancer Control, The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, and the Asian Center for WTO & International Health Law and Policy, National Taiwan University, College of Law.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.