A $2.7 mil­lion grant from the National Cancer Insti­tute will fund research on how the tobacco, fast-​​food and sweetened-​​beverage indus­tries use and exploit the con­cept of per­sonal respon­si­bility and choice, and the resulting effect on public health. The five-​​year project, led by North­eastern Uni­ver­sity law pro­fessor and leading public health advo­cate Richard Day­nard, will ana­lyze legal and reg­u­la­tory forums, adver­tising, public rela­tions efforts and the news media.

As the inci­dence of obesity-​​caused health prob­lems and can­cers rises, con­tends Day­nard, the food industry has begun emu­lating pat­terns pio­neered by the tobacco industry: shifting blame from source to con­sumer to avoid lia­bility and lit­i­ga­tion. While such rhetoric in adver­tising and public rela­tions is well doc­u­mented, its use in the judi­cial, reg­u­la­tory and leg­isla­tive forums that have the most direct legal impli­ca­tions remains largely unexplored.

Our goal is to examine how the tobacco industry has used per­sonal respon­si­bility rhetoric to influ­ence courts, leg­is­la­tures, reg­u­la­tory agen­cies and public opinion, and to see to what extent the food and bev­erage indus­tries have made use of sim­ilar strate­gies,” said Day­nard. “If the burden for addressing the harm is left with the con­sumer rather than the man­u­fac­turer, the man­u­fac­turer benefits—often at the expense of public health,” he added.

Per­sonal respon­si­bility rhetoric affects the out­come of con­sumer law­suits and is a sig­nif­i­cant hurdle to the imple­men­ta­tion of public-​​health reg­u­la­tions and statutes, such as mar­keting restric­tions, access to the courts, and clean indoor-​​air laws. The researchers hope their inves­ti­ga­tions will increase under­standing of how such public health poli­cies and policy-​​based inter­ven­tions are both cre­ated and impeded.

News trans­mit­ting judi­cial, reg­u­la­tory, and leg­isla­tive infor­ma­tion and deci­sions to the public sets the agenda and frames the debate for the public and policy. More impor­tantly, the news media accord legit­i­macy and cred­i­bility to the topics they cover, thus poten­tially influ­encing public opinion and legal pro­ceed­ings,” added Daynard.

A pro­fessor and pres­i­dent of the Public Health Advo­cacy Insti­tute at Northeastern’s School of Law, Day­nard is at the fore­front of an inter­na­tional move­ment to estab­lish the legal respon­si­bility of the tobacco industry for tobacco-​​induced death, dis­ease and dis­ability, and is an inter­na­tional leader in com­bating the obe­sity epidemic.

The project will be car­ried out in col­lab­o­ra­tion with North­eastern School of Law’s Public Health Advo­cacy Insti­tute and with the Berkeley Media Studies Group.

For more infor­ma­tion on Daynard’s research and the Public Health Advo­cacy Insti­tute, please visit: http://​www​.north​eastern​.edu/​l​a​w​/​a​c​a​d​e​m​i​c​s​/​f​a​c​u​l​t​y​/​d​i​r​e​c​t​o​r​y​/​d​a​y​n​a​r​d​.​h​tml