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Representations of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in UK newspapers: a case study of a public health policy debate

23 Feb 2015

Background

Mass media influence public acceptability, and hence feasibility, of public health interventions. This study investigates newsprint constructions of the alcohol problem and minimum unit pricing (MUP).

Methods

Quantitative content analysis of 901 articles about MUP published in 10 UK and Scottish newspapers between 2005 and 2012.

Results

MUP was a high-profile issue, particularly in Scottish publications. Reporting increased steadily between 2008 and 2012, matching the growing status of the debate. The alcohol problem was widely acknowledged, often associated with youths, and portrayed as driven by cheap alcohol, supermarkets and drinking culture. Over-consumption was presented as a threat to health and social order. Appraisals of MUP were neutral, with supportiveness increasing slightly over time. Arguments focused on health impacts more frequently than more emotive perspectives or business interests. Health charities and the NHS were cited slightly more frequently than alcohol industry representatives.

Conclusion

Emphases on efficacy, evidence and experts are positive signs for evidence-based policymaking. The high profile of MUP, along with growing support within articles, could reflect growing appetite for action on the alcohol problem. Representations of the problem as structurally driven might engender support for legislative solutions, although cultural explanations remain common.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Journal of Public Health