Research Publication Roundup: May 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.



Jo, C. L., Golden, S. D., Noar, S. M., Rini, C., & Ribisl, K. M. (2018). Effects of e-cigarette advertising messages and cues on cessation outcomes. Tobacco Regulatory Science, 4(1), 562-572.

Researchers examined effects of e-cigarette ad messages and visual cues on outcomes related to combustible cigarette smoking cessation: smoking cessation intention, smoking urges, and immediate smoking behavior. US adult smokers (N = 3293) were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk and randomized to condition in a 3 (message: e-cigarette use anywhere, harm reduction, control) × 2 (e-cigarette cue presence or absence) between-subjects experiment. Stimuli were print ads for cigarette-like e-cigarettes ("cigalikes") that were manipulated for the experimental conditions. Researchers conducted ANOVA and logistic regression analyses to investigate effects of the manipulations. Message effects on cessation intention and smoking urges were not statistically significant. There was no evidence of cue effects or message × cue interactions across outcomes. Contrary to expectations, e-cigarette use anywhere and harm reduction messages may encourage smoking cessation, given the observed reduction in immediate smoking. E-cigarette cues may not influence smoking cessation outcomes.


Mendel, J. R., Baig, S. A., Hall, M. G., Byron, M. J., Morgan, J. C., Noar, S. M., Ribisl, K. M., & Brewer, N. T. (2018). Brand switching and toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke: A national study. Plos One, 13(1), e0189928.

US law requires disclosure of quantities of toxic chemicals (constituents) in cigarette smoke by brand and sub-brand. This information may drive smokers to switch to cigarettes with lower chemical quantities, under the misperception that doing so can reduce health risk. The researchers sought to understand past brand-switching behavior and whether learning about specific chemicals in cigarette smoke increases susceptibility to brand switching. Participants were US adult smokers surveyed by phone (n = 1,151) and online (n = 1,561). Surveys assessed whether smokers had ever switched cigarette brands or styles to reduce health risk and about likelihood of switching if the smoker learned their brand had more of a specific chemical than other cigarettes. Chemicals presented were nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead, formaldehyde, arsenic, and ammonia. Overall, 61–92% of smokers were susceptible to brand switching based on information about particular chemicals. In both samples, lead, formaldehyde, arsenic, and ammonia led to more susceptibility to switch than nicotine. Many US smokers have switched brands or styles to reduce health risks. The majority said they might or would definitely switch brands if they learned their cigarettes had more of a toxic chemical than other brands. The researchers found that brand switching is a probable unintended consequence of communications that show differences in smoke chemicals between brands.


Noar, S. M., Kelley, D. E., Boynton, M. H., Morgan, J. C., Hall., M. G., Mendel, J. R., Ribisl, K. M., & Brewer, N. T. (2018). Identifying principles for effective messages about chemicals in cigarette smoke. Preventive Medicine, 106, 31-37.

US law requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to disclose information on harmful and potentially harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke (i.e., constituents) to the public. To inform this effort, researchers sought to identify principles for creating constituent messages that effectively discourage smoking. Participants were an online convenience sample of 1148 US smokers ages 18 +. Researchers developed a library of 76 messages about constituents only and constituents plus contextualizing information (i.e., toxic products that also contain the chemical, health effects, or both). They randomized smokers to receive 1 message from each of 7 message panels in a mixed between-/within-subjects experiment. Participants rated each message on perceived message effectiveness. Results indicated that smokers perceived messages about arsenic, formaldehyde, lead, uranium, and ammonia as more effective than messages about nitrosamines. Messages that contained information on toxic products, health effects, or both received higher effectiveness ratings than constituent-only messages. Among constituent-only messages, those that referenced multiple constituents received higher effectiveness ratings than those with fewer constituents. Researchers concludes that chemical messages may have more impact if they pair known constituents with toxic product or health effect information. These message principles can be used to inform studies examining the impact of constituent messages on smoking beliefs and behavior.


Ranney, L. M., Jarman, K., L. Baker, H. M., Vu, M., Noar, S. M., & Goldstein, A. O. (2018). Factors influencing trust in government agencies that disseminate tobacco prevention information. Journal of Primary Prevention, 39(2), 99-116.

Several health-related agencies administer national and targeted public education campaigns to provide health information and change health-related behaviors. The trust the public has in these agencies as the source of the message impacts the effectiveness of their communication campaigns. In this study, we explore the perceived trust of agencies that communicate health messages in the tobacco control field. As part of a larger tobacco regulatory science study, we conducted six 90-min focus groups comprising 41 participants. Five main themes emerged pertinent to the agency: (1) its integrity, (2) its competence, (3) its motives, (4) how it is portrayed in the media, and (5) skepticism and mistrust about it. Given the significant resources spent on health messaging to the public and potential benefits offered by this communication, an understanding of public trust in the agencies as the source of health messages is important. Findings suggest health information may be ignored or discounted when there is mistrust in the agency sending those messages.


Van Stee, S. K., Noar, S. M., Harrington, N. G., & Grant, L. F. (2018). The effects of metaphor use and message format on cognitive processing and persuasive outcomes of condom promotion messages. Communication Studies, 69(1), 23-41.

The potential of pictorial and verbal metaphors to gain attention and enhance persuasion is considerable. Few scholars, however, have investigated the persuasive effects of metaphor in health messages. Researchers applied a 2 × 2 factorial experiment to examine the effects of metaphor use (metaphor/literal) and message format (verbal/pictorial) on cognitive processing and persuasive outcomes of condom promotion messages. Results showed no significant differences in cognitive processing according to metaphor or format, but there were differences in attitudes and behavioral intentions according to metaphor and format, with literal and verbal messages performing best. Potential explanations for findings and implications for future research and health message design are discussed.


Rohde, J. A., Noar, S. M., Horvitz, C., Lazard, A. J., Cornacchione Ross, J., & Suftin, E. L. (2018). The role of knowledge and risk beliefs in adolescent e-cigarette use: A pilot study. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health, 15(830).

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.


Saffer, A. J., Yang, A., & Taylor, M. (2018). Reconsidering power in multi-stakeholder relationship management. Management Communication Quarterly, 32(1), 121–139. DOI: 

Multistakeholder issue networks have been characterized as power-free, egalitarian forms of corporate–civil society engagement. Using a communication-centered conceptualization of power, this study finds that potential sources of power subtly manifest through communication and interaction patterns in multistakeholder issue networks. Results indicate that organizations’ institutional status and resources are significant predictors of network power.


Yang, A. & Saffer, A. J. (2018). NGOs, network agenda building, and the international refugee crisis: A cross-national social network study. American Behavioral Scientist. DOI: 10.1177/0002764218759578

In the 2015 European refugee crisis, nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) offered help and actively advocated for millions of refugees. This study aims to understand what communication strategies are most effective for NGOs to influence media coverage and the public’s social media conversations about refugees. The researchers found that agenda building on traditional media and in social media conversations require different strategies. Specifically, although providing information subsidies could powerfully influence traditional media coverage, its effect waned in the context of social media conversations. In contrast, NGOs’ hyperlink network positions emerged as the one of the influential factors for NGOs’ prominence in social media conversations. Moreover, stakeholder-initiated engagement could influence agenda building both in traditional media coverage and social media conversations. Finally, organizational resources and characteristics are important factors as well. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.