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Am J Public Health. 2014 Jun;104(6):1048-51. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301754. Epub 2014 Apr 17.

The origins of personal responsibility rhetoric in news coverage of the tobacco industry.

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Pamela Mejia, Lori Dorfman, Andrew Cheyne, and Laura Nixon are with Berkeley Media Studies Group, Public Health Institute, Berkeley, CA. Lissy Friedman, Mark Gottlieb, and Richard Daynard are with Public Health Advocacy Institute, Boston, MA.


The tobacco industry consistently frames smoking as a personal issue rather than the responsibility of cigarette companies. To identify when personal responsibility framing became a major element of the tobacco industry's discourse, we analyzed news coverage from 1966 to 1991. Industry representatives began to regularly use these arguments in 1977. By the mid 1980s, this frame dominated the industry's public arguments. This chronology illustrates that the tobacco industry's use of personal responsibility rhetoric in public preceded the ascension of personal responsibility rhetoric commonly associated with the Reagan Administration in the 1980s.

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