Online Program

Is anyone responsible? the origins of personal responsibility rhetoric in news coverage of tobacco & obesity

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 : 5:30 p.m. - 5:50 p.m.

Pamela Mejia, MPH, MS, Research Team, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Lori Dorfman, DrPH, Public Health Institute, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Andrew Cheyne, CPhil, Research Team, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Laura Nixon, MPH, Research Team, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Mark A. Gottlieb, JD, at Northeastern Univ. School of Law, Public Health Advocacy Institute, Boston, MA
Lissy C. Friedman, JD, Public Health Advocacy Institute, Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, MA
Richard A. Daynard, JD, PhD, Public Health Advocacy Institute, Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, MA
The food and beverage industry's opposition to recent regulatory efforts is informed by the counter-regulatory “playbook” established by the tobacco industry, a key component of which was shifting responsibility to individual consumers. This study systematically explores the origins of the tobacco industry's personal responsibility arguments in the news, and its connection to rhetoric used by the food and beverage industry. We analyzed media coverage of the tobacco industry spanning 1966 to 1991, and compared it to an analysis of news coverage of the food and beverage industry from 2000 to 2011. Faced with calls for policy responses to health crises in which they are implicated, the tobacco industry responded by disputing the health harms caused by cigarettes, and by characterizing government regulation as intrusive. By contrast, food and beverage representatives primarily promoted their industry as a socially responsible actor. They also framed all of their arguments in the news in the context of personal responsibility - even those that did not explicitly refer to individual consumers. Both tobacco and food and beverage companies have successfully drawn on the deeply-held American value of personal responsibility to limit support for policies that could limit the reach of their respective products. The food and beverage industry's weaving of personal responsibility throughout all of its news frames is particularly invidious for obesity prevention advocates, because it reinforces subtle associations against intervening for the public's good that are more difficult to counter than the more explicit and isolated arguments used by the tobacco industry.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Identify when the tobacco and food and beverage industries began to employ arguments about personal responsibility for health in the news as a strategy to forestall regulatory efforts. Describe how both industries employed frames about personal responsibility for health, as well as arguments about the responsibility of other actors to address health-related problems associated with their products. Compare the two industries' arguments about who is responsible for causing and solving health problems associated with their products. Formulate lessons from this analysis for advocates in tobacco control and obesity prevention policy campaigns.

Keyword(s): Tobacco Control, Food and Nutrition

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I participated in all stages of the planning, research, and analysis for this project. I also led the writing of the results. I graduated from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health with a Master's in Public Health. I combine a background in public health with an interest in social justice and media analysis. I have experience presenting my research at conferences and workshops.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.