Tobacco industry use of personal responsibility rhetoric in public relations and litigation: disguising freedom to blame as freedom of choice

Am J Public Health. 2015 Feb;105(2):250-60. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302226.


We examined the tobacco industry's rhetoric to frame personal responsibility arguments. The industry rarely uses the phrase "personal responsibility" explicitly, but rather "freedom of choice." When freedom of choice is used in the context of litigation, the industry means that those who choose to smoke are solely to blame for their injuries. When used in the industry's public relations messages, it grounds its meaning in the concept of liberty and the right to smoke. The courtroom "blame rhetoric" has influenced the industry's larger public relations message to shift responsibility away from the tobacco companies and onto their customers. Understanding the rhetoric and framing that the industry employs is essential to combating this tactic, and we apply this comprehension to other industries that act as disease vectors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Freedom*
  • Humans
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Public Relations*
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Tobacco Industry* / methods