The investigators propose to examine the tobacco, fast food and sweetened beverage industries'use of personal responsibility rhetoric in legal and regulatory forums where many public health policies, both positive and negative, are created. As a response to legal context, the tobacco industry invokes personal responsibility rhetoric to focus attention away from its conduct and toward the individual in responding to the harm. When used as the basis of legislative and regulatory oversight, in judicial proceedings, or in other forums of law and policy formation, the concept of personal responsibility exploited rhetorically to obscure or shift attention from larger structural determinants -- including culpable actors -- that adversely affect the public's health. The investigators will identify the judicial, regulatory, legislative operational processes and related media coverage that have facilitated the use of personal responsibility rhetoric by the tobacco industry and those processes that have resisted such rhetoric in favor of analyses of structural determinants of health behaviors. The tobacco industry's personal responsibility rhetoric may also serve as a model for other commercial interests faced with the recognition that their products are harming the public's health. The investigators will examine rhetoric in the judicial, regulatory, legislative forums and related media by the fast food and sweetened beverage industries in their identified role in the obesity epidemic and compare their rhetoric with that deployed by the tobacco industry. Research will be oriented around nine key law and policy events, which will function as the investigators'theoretical samples. The theory is that the use of personal responsibility rhetoric shields from scrutiny in the judicial, regulatory and legislative forums commercially engineered determinants of health behavior. In addition to traditional law and policy research, the investigators rely on ethnographic content analysis to examine datasets containing internal industry tobacco documents, legal documents generated in the relevant legal forums, news media coverage, industry public relations documents and other documentation of conduct by the tobacco, fast food and sweetened beverage industries. The investigators will develop an initial coding scheme based on a preliminary literature reviews and examination of samples of text in the identified datasets. The investigators will test the coding on samples from the identified datasets. The study findings will be described in articles to be published in peer-reviewed publications and actively disseminated through participation in scholarly forums.

Public Health Relevance

By understanding the tobacco industry's rhetorical use of the concept of personal responsibility in legal and regulatory forums such as courts and legislatures where much health policy is determined, and analyzing how this rhetoric appears in news, opinion and public relations media material, it will be possible to more effectively anticipate and counter such rhetoric and enact evidence-based public health interventions in legal and regulatory forums. Extending the analysis of the use of such rhetoric to the """"""""fast food"""""""" and sweetened beverage industries that are implicated in the obesity epidemic and comparing these approaches to that of the tobacco industry will better prepare policy-makers for undertaking important policy interventions to reduce obesity and its escalating public health impact.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Community Influences on Health Behavior (CIHB)
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Bloch, Michele H
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Northeastern University
Other Domestic Higher Education
United States
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Friedman, Lissy C; Cheyne, Andrew; Givelber, Daniel et al. (2015) Tobacco industry use of personal responsibility rhetoric in public relations and litigation: disguising freedom to blame as freedom of choice. Am J Public Health 105:250-60
Nixon, Laura; Mejia, Pamela; Dorfman, Lori et al. (2015) Fast-food fights: news coverage of local efforts to improve food environments through land-use regulations, 2001-2013. [corrected]. Am J Public Health 105:490-6
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