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Keywords:

  • Alcohol;
  • alcohol policy;
  • content analysis;
  • harms to others;
  • media;
  • qualitative research

Abstract

Background and aims

Minimum unit pricing is a fiscal intervention intended to tackle the social and health harms from alcohol to individual drinkers and wider society. This paper presents the first large-scale qualitative examination of how newsprint media framed the debate around the harms of alcohol consumption to ‘others’ during the development and passing of minimum unit pricing legislation in Scotland.

Methods

Qualitative content analysis was conducted on seven UK and three Scottish national newspapers between 1 January 2005 and 30 June 2012. Relevant articles were identified using the electronic databases Nexis UK and Newsbank. A total of 403 articles focused on the harms of alcohol consumption to ‘others’ and were eligible for detailed coding and analysis.

Results

Alcohol harms to wider society and communities were identified as being a worsening issue increasingly affecting everyone through shared economic costs, social disorder, crime and violence. The availability of cheap alcohol was blamed, alongside a minority of ‘problem’ youth binge drinkers. The harm caused to families was less widely reported.

Conclusions

If news reporting encourages the public to perceive the harms caused by alcohol to wider society as having reached crisis point, a population-based intervention may be deemed necessary and acceptable. However, the current focus in news reports on youth binge drinkers may be masking the wider issue of overconsumption across the broader population.