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In politically contested health debates, stakeholders on both sides present arguments and evidence to influence public opinion and the political agenda. The present study aimed to examine whether stakeholders in the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) debate sought to establish or undermine the acceptability of this policy through the news media and how this compared with similar policy debates in relation to tobacco and alcohol industries.
Quantitative and qualitative content analysis of newspaper articles discussing sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxation published in eleven UK newspapers between 1 April 2015 and 30 November 2016, identified through the Nexis database. Direct stakeholder citations were entered in NVivo to allow inductive thematic analysis and comparison with an established typology of industry stakeholder arguments used by the alcohol and tobacco industries.
Proponents and opponents of SSB tax/SDIL cited in UK newspapers.
Four hundred and ninety-one newspaper articles cited stakeholders’ (n 287) arguments in relation to SSB taxation (n 1761: 65 % supportive and 35 % opposing). Stakeholders’ positions broadly reflected their vested interests. Inconsistencies arose from: changes in ideological position; insufficient clarity on the nature of the problem to be solved; policy priorities; and consistency with academic rigour. Both opposing and supportive themes were comparable with the alcohol and tobacco industry typology.
Public health advocates were particularly prominent in the UK newspaper debate surrounding the SDIL. Advocates in future policy debates might benefit from seeking a similar level of prominence and avoiding inconsistencies by being clearer about the policy objective and mechanisms.
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