Individual versus corporate responsibility for smoking-related illness: Australian press coverage of the Rolah McCabe trial

Health Promot Int. 2003 Dec;18(4):297-305. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dag413.


This paper provides a thematic frame analysis of Australian newspaper reporting of the outcome and implications of the trial of Rolah McCabe versus British American Tobacco Australasia (BATA). In this trial, a Melbourne woman was awarded A$700,000 damages for smoking-attributable lung cancer when the defendant, BATA, had its case dismissed due to document destruction. In 60 commentaries from Australian national or capital city newspapers between 12 April and 9 May 2002, a total of 79 instances of eight tobacco-related frames were identified. Overall, 43% of the 79 instances were positive for tobacco control, 46% were negative for tobacco control and 11% were neutral. The most common frame that was negative for tobacco control (in 35% of articles) was the conception that smokers exert 'free will' in deciding to smoke and should therefore be personally responsible for their smoking and any disease that arises as a result of it. A related, but less commonly employed frame (in 18% of articles) was the expressed fear of a 'slippery slope' of litigation, which portrayed smoking as similar to eating fast food or other 'vices'. The most common frame that was positive for tobacco control (in 35% of articles) was the notion that the tobacco industry was 'evil' and, to a lesser extent, that the government should 'do more' to control smoking (15% of articles). These findings provide a sobering public health challenge to improve public communication efforts about the powerful forces that conspire to induce people to start smoking and keep them smoking for decades, despite a strong desire to quit. There is a need to fund public education programs and quit smoking services more adequately to address the complex education task of understanding the nature of addiction to tobacco and the enormity of the health risk.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Newspapers as Topic*
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Social Responsibility*
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*