Research Publication Roundup: November 2018

A vibrant and collaborative interdisciplinary research culture at the UNC School of Media and Journalism creates new knowledge, advances scholarship and helps reinvent media. Below is a list of recently published or presented scholarship by MJ-school faculty and students.



Mackert, M., Case, K., Lazard, A., Oh, J., Wagner, J. H., Hawk, E., ... & Lakey, D. (2018). Building a health communication brand for University of Texas System tobacco control. Journal of American College Health, 00-00.

Despite declining cigarette smoking rates in the U.S., there is a continued need for tobacco prevention education campaigns to reach young adults. This report describes an initiative from the University of Texas System to develop a health communication effort that would strengthen tobacco control and prevention efforts at its 14 diverse institutions. The process involved enlisting expertise in evidence-based health communication, developing a brand and visual identity for tobacco control that all of the 14 system institutions could agree on, and providing all schools the tools to use the new brand effectively. This effort forged new interdisciplinary connections across academic institutions and offers a model for other systems of higher education interested in pursuing similar initiatives.


Lazard, A. J., Horrell, L., Pikowski, J., Cornacchione Ross, J., Noar, S. M., & Sutfin, E. L. (2018). Message and Delivery Preferences for Online Tobacco Education among Adolescents and Young Adults. Journal of health communication, 1-8.

Use of cigarettes and noncigarette tobacco products (NCTPs) among adolescents and young adults remains high. Strategies to communicate the risks of cigarettes and NCTPs are needed. Online tobacco education is one such strategy; however, there is little guidance for message development. We conducted four focus groups (n = 39) with adolescent and young adult to identify message and delivery preferences for online tobacco education. Participants evaluated three existing tobacco education websites. Transcripts were coded for preferred tobacco education message content, delivery, and willingness to use online tobacco education. Participants preferred novel, concise facts, embedded links to credible sources, and an anti-industry tone for website messages. Participants expressed an aversion to message strategies that relied on scare tactics or attempted to simulate youth media trends (e.g., overuse of hashtags). To increase exposure, participants recommended using social media to drive engagement. Results serve as guidelines for what information adolescents and young adults desire, as well as how they want this information communicated with online tobacco education. Our findings – youth prefer new, fact-based information that is conveyed concisely, with sources, without authoritative tones, and delivered via social media – provides guidance for how to develop online tobacco education for this at-risk population.


Kowitt, S., Lazard, A., Queen, T., Noar, S., & Goldstein, A. (2018). Adolescents’ aided recall of targeted and non-targeted tobacco communication campaigns in the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(11), 2363.

Researchers examined whether advertisements from two national tobacco control campaigns targeting adolescents and one campaign targeting adults were reaching adolescents. Data came from a national sample of adolescents aged 13 to 17 years (n = 975) surveyed by phone from August 2016 to May 2017. We assessed recall and attitudes toward five specific advertisements and three campaign slogans and examined differences by sub-groups. Almost all (95%) adolescents recalled seeing at least one campaign advertisement. Increased exposure to the advertisements (i.e., recalling more advertisements) was significantly associated with higher odds of reporting negative feelings toward tobacco products in 4/5 models. Large-scale national campaigns can have wide reach among both targeted and non-targeted audiences with added benefits for cumulative cross-campaign exposure to advertisements.


Morgan, J. C., Moracco, K. E., Mendel, J. R., Kelley, D. E., Noar, S. M., & Brewer, N. T. (2018). Increasing effectiveness of messages about chemicals in cigarette smoke. Tobacco Regulatory Science, 4(4), 50-62.

Federal law requires informing the public on toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke. Researchers sought the public's advice about communicating information about these chemicals. Adolescents, young adults, and adults (N = 59), including smokers and non-smokers, participated in 9 focus groups that discussed inclusion of messages about toxic chemicals on cigarette packs, in media campaigns, and on a website. Audio-recordings were transcribed, coded, and analyzed. Participants had 3 suggestions for message content to increase the impact of messages about cigarette smoke chemicals. First, they wanted to see messages rotated more frequently to increase message novelty. Second, they recommended using stories and pictures to help connect people to the abstract idea of chemicals in smoke. Third, they cautioned against making messages that might seem overblown and could appeal to the rebellious nature of adolescents. Some participants mentioned that chemical information on a website might discourage people from smoking; others mentioned that people might use it to choose which brand to smoke.  Legislation provides the impetus to design new chemical disclosure messages for cigarette packs and other media. Our findings can help increase the impact of these messages.


Morgan, J. C., Southwell, B. G., Noar, S. M., Ribisl, K. M., Golden, S. D., & Brewer, N. T. (2017). Frequency and content of conversations about pictorial warnings on cigarette packs. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 20(7), 882-887.

Social interactions are a key mechanism through which health communication efforts, including pictorial cigarette pack warnings, may exert their effects. Researchers sought to better understand social interactions elicited by pictorial cigarette pack warnings. A controlled trial randomly assigned US adult smokers (n = 2149) to have their cigarette packs labeled with pictorial or text-only warnings for 4 weeks. Smokers completed surveys during the baseline visit and each of the subsequent 4 weekly visits. Pictorial warnings sparked more conversations about the warnings, the health effects of smoking, and quitting smoking than text-only warnings. These social interactions may extend the reach of pictorial warnings beyond the targeted smoker and may be one of the processes by which pictorial warnings have impact. This trial characterized social interactions about pictorial cigarette pack warnings with a large longitudinal sample in a real-world setting. Understanding these conversations can inform the United States and other countries as they improve existing warnings and help tobacco control policy makers and health communication theorists understand how social interactions triggered by warnings affect smoking.


Rohde, J. A., Noar, S. M., Horvitz, C., Lazard, A. J., Ross, J. C., & Sutfin, E. L. (2018). The role of knowledge and risk beliefs in adolescent e-cigarette use: A pilot study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(4).

The use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices among adolescents is an urgent public health problem due to the concern about adolescent exposure to nicotine. This study examined: (1) adolescents’ knowledge and beliefs about e-cigarette risks; and (2) whether knowledge and risk beliefs were associated with e-cigarette use. N = 69 adolescents completed a cross-sectional survey about e-cigarette knowledge, attitudes (i.e., risk beliefs), and behavior (KAB). Nearly half (47%) of the sample reported ever using e-cigarettes. The majority of adolescents knew about many of the risks of e-cigarettes, with no differences between never- and ever-users. However, risk beliefs, such as worrying about health risks of using e-cigarettes, varied across groups. Compared to never-users, e-cigarette ever-users were significantly less likely to worry about e-cigarette health risks, less likely to think that e-cigarettes would cause them negative health consequences, and less likely to believe that e-cigarette use would lead to addiction. In a multivariable logistic regression, prior combustible cigarette use, mother’s education, and addiction risk beliefs about e-cigarettes emerged as significant predictors of adolescents’ e-cigarette use. This study reveals that while knowledge is not associated with adolescent e-cigarette use, risk beliefs do predict use.



104th annual National Communication Association (NCA) Conference
Nov. 8-11, 2018 | Salt Lake City, UT

Qu, Y. (2018, November). Engaging Publics in the Mobile Era: A Study of Chinese Charitable Foundations’ Use of WeChat. Paper presented at the 104th annual National Communication Association (NCA) Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.