Deliberately Personal: The politics of tobacco control in NSW

31 October 2014

In this paper we examine some of the main features of public discourse concerning tobacco control, analysing parliamentary debate in New South Wales between 1980 and 2003. We ask both how deeply tobacco industry discursive frames (eg, the ‘right to smoke’) penetrated and organized parliamentary discourse and identify what kinds of ideas were mobilized to justify tobacco control despite government reluctance to intervene. We find that the overall evolution of tobacco control policy was shaped by legislators’ commitment to the ideals of deliberative democracy. We argue firstly that parliamentary debate on tobacco control was conducted in highly moralised language that effectively excluded the tobacco industry’s arguments. Secondly, we show that this discourse was constructed and validated through the extensive use of personal anecdote and references, through which MPs sought to reflect public opinion and engage in authentic deliberation. Finally we argue that MPs positioned this concern for authentic deliberation as part of the debate on tobacco itself, associating tobacco control with ideal government.