Module: Communications Theory and PR Practice.

The Brief: On 26th March 2006 the Scottish Government introduced legislation to ban smoking in public places in Scotland. It was a controversial piece of legislation which mobilised a number of key actors to vocalise opinions in an attempt to ensure the legislation went through or to try and block it.

Present an analysis of the case made to justify the introduction of this legislation. Your analysis should include identification of the key actors and resources in addition to consideration of aspects such as the macro environment for this issue; the strategies that have been adopted by different groups including an identification of who has framed the issue and who has introduced the framing; then choose at least one actor and analyse the strategies used to build legitimacy, and media advocacy techniques adopted. You must relate your analysis to theoretical frameworks and reference these sources appropriately.


In June 2005 the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 was passed in the Scottish Parliament. A major part of the act meant that from 6 AM on 26th March 2006, smoking in enclosed public spaces would be prohibited by law. Colloquially this was referred to as the smoking ban.

This report identifies the key actors involved in the debate, analyses their resources and the general strategies used in the debate before focussing on the strategies of legitimacy utilised by key actors campaigning for the introduction of the legislation.

Key Actors and their Resources

As with any prominent policy debate, a number of key actors emerged, each with different resources and agendas.

  • Chief Medical Officer for Scotland (CMO)

Dr Ernest Armstrong, in his official capacity as CMO, entered the debate at an early stage (Puttick 2004). In the debate he can be seen, through his position, as having perceived credibility leading to his being viewed as having ‘expertise and trustworthiness’ (O’Keefe 2002, p. 182).

  • Scottish Executive

The Scottish Executive were involved in debating and drafting the legislation that introduced the ban, intimating from 2004 that a ban was being considered (Fraser 2004). Incorporating the departments of government, the Executive possessed substantial economic and human resources (Davis 2003). Additionally, by being an established institutional actor, the Executive possessed an automatic level of media capital (Davis 2003) meaning that the Executive had pre-existing relationships with journalists and was an established, credible story source.

Under Weber’s model of legitimacy, the Executive has rational grounds for legitimacy – they are in the position to draft legislation; and traditional grounds – they represent the tradition and authority of government (Wæraas 2009). They can also be described as an authority (Wolfsfeld 2003).

  • NHS/ASH Scotland

The NHS is another institutional actor. Like the Executive, it is resource-rich – having substantial economic and human resources (Davis 2003). It also has media capital (Davis 2003) and cultural and social capital (Ihlen 2009). Additionally it possesses Weber’s rational grounds for legitimacy – they are an authority on health matters; and traditional grounds in terms of being an established institution (Wæraas 2009).

Comparatively, ASH Scotland is a resource-poor organisation (David 2003), having limited human and economic resources. It is a pressure group that, in this debate, could be described as an insider group (Watts 2007) due to being accepted as legitimate by policy makers.

In this report, the NHS and ASH Scotland are grouped together because they formed a coalition (Kolker 2004). This allowed ASH to access the powerful resources of the former organisation, overcoming its resource-poor status. Additionally this allowed it to build a level of legitimacy, moving from outsider to insider status in having a voice in the debate that government listened to (Watts 2007). While only the NHS could be considered an authority, in their coalition and unified goals, this report considers both parties authorities in the debate (Wolfsfeld 2003).

  • Forest/The Tobacco Industry

Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco) is a pro-smoking pressure group. In the terms of this debate, Forest can be classified as an outsider group (Watts 2007) – it has limited media capital and lacks the automatic media capital that the Executive or NHS possesses (David 2003). It is also a challenger rather than an authority (Wolfslfed 2003).

While at first impression, the Forest group appears resource-poor, it does have economic resources through tobacco industry funding (Forest 2014)[1]. In a similar way to the NHS/ASH coalition, the resource-poor pressure group benefited from the human and economic resources of these tobacco companies.

Forest, as an outsider group, lacked Weber’s traditional or rational grounds for legitimacy (Wæraas 2009). It could be argued that it met some of the criteria for charismatic legitimacy, however, this description is heavily dependent on receivers’ personal identification with its messages and did not translate into recognised legitimacy by policy makers (Wæraas 2009).[2]

  • Scottish Licenced Trade Association (SLTA)

The SLTA was among the most prominent challengers. They are a trade association and had economic resources through funding and connections with the drinks industry (SLTA 2014). As a trade association they possess cultural capital in terms of knowledge and skills; and social capital in terms of their connections (Ihlen 2009).

Framing the Debate

As in any public debate, different key actors attempted to frame the discourse in the way that best benefited their position. In general terms the framing could be described as issues framing: a social problem was defined and debated (Hallahan 1999). However, the following specific frames were introduced[3]:

  • Health ~ introduced by: CMO, NHS, ASH and Scottish Executive

Connecting with the idea of issues framing, these organisations framed the problem as a health issue (NHS Health Scotland and ASH Scotland 2003; The Herald 2004). This proved a most effective frame because it built upon ideas and discourse around the health impacts of smoking already familiar to the public. The frame was therefore relevant in terms of ‘what [was] already known about the subject‘ (Golding and Elliot 2009, p. 636). Additionally, health is important to audiences and accessible to journalists (Golding and Elliot 2009) and has substantial cultural resonance (Kolker 2004).

  • Economic ~ introduced by: SLTA, Scottish Conservatives[4]

The economic framing suggested that the banning of smoking would have a severely detrimental impact on the pub trade (Pearson 2006). This framing was less successfully picked up by the media. Arguably this was due to the lower media capital possessed by SLTA, although this could be mitigated somewhat by their political support. Additionally economic and business frames tend to be treated less favourably by the media due to their lack of news values and connection to the audience (Davis 2003). Furthermore, the SLTA was confirming rather than ‘deconfirming’ its expected position (O’Keefe 2002)[5].

  • Freedom of choice ~ introduced by: Forest

This framing was favoured by Forest in its campaigning activity and argued that the individual had a right to choose whether or not to smoke. It was extended to include arguments about the legality of a smoking ban, therefore challenging the Executive’s rational legitimacy (Wæraas 2009). This framing had little legitimacy and did not hold the cultural resonance of the health, or even the economic framing (Kolker 2004), possibly due to the fact that a majority of the media audience were themselves non-smokers. It therefore failed to register very heavily on the media agenda, a problem not helped by its lack of news values (Golding and Elliot)[6].

Building Legitimacy

As shown, the key actors promoting the ban consistently focussed on a framing around health. This was effective because it had greater cultural resonance than either economic or freedom of choice frames (Kolker 2004).

In 2004 the CMO was cautious about introducing a ban too early, worrying that without substantial public support, it would be unenforceable (Puttick 2004). To an extent the Helical model of communication proposed by Dance is seen here (McQuail and Windahl 1993). As the debate progressed, information was built upon, the case became stronger, support increased and the legislation was proposed.[7]

The actors’ communications strategies in the debate also very clearly maps onto the Maletzke model (McQuail and Windhal 1993). Crucially this model takes into account the variety of different circumstances and beliefs/levels of agreement with the message among receivers. It takes into account the breadth of different mediums of communication and allows for the specific resources of the communicator to be taken into account. Also, it specifically allows for feedback from the receiver[8].

The health frame was well based to legitimise the need for a ban – it elaborated on previous public discourse on the negative impacts of smoking and had clear news values: it was a simple framing so could be told with brevity; it had size in that it would affect the entire nation; it had proximity because it was local and likely to affect large portions of the audience; there was clear drama in that there was a fiercely fought debate;[9] negativity in terms of the economic framing; and importance in so far as it was a major public health debate and a significant piece of legislation (Golding and Elliot 2009).

Health as a frame, in conjunction with the traditional and rational legitimacy of the principle actors supporting this view (Wæraas 2009); their human and economic resources (Davis 2003); and their cultural and media capital (Ihlen 2009) in addition to the strong news values (Golding and Elliot 2009) and the clear cultural resonance of the frame (Kolker 2004) meant that this framing dominated the media agenda, quickly building a substantial level of legitimacy. Once established, this became extremely difficult to overwhelm and the lack of news values of the challengers’ frames soon became a substantial weakness.


The debate over the smoking ban illustrates well the power and influence of cultural resonance in framing an argument. In this case it allowed the actors to set a media agenda because it connected well to news values. Conversely the difficulty in presenting an economic framing of the issue was far more difficult for the challengers to place on the media agenda.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this case is in the clear success of ASH in overcoming its resource-poor status through a powerful and effective coalition with the NHS. The success of the campaign elevated the organisation’s media capital and source credibility (Davis 2003); invested them with the potential to build to rational legitimacy and, perhaps in the long term, traditional legitimacy (Wæraas 2009); and allowed them to build upon this foundation in subsequent campaigns.

Finally this debate illustrates the great advantage of building upon previous discourse (i.e. the health framing) with demonstrated news values over introducing an entirely new framing (i.e. the economic impact of a smoking ban on bars and clubs) which has fewer news values and lesser cultural resonance.


  • DAVIS, A., 2003. Public Relations and News Sources. In: S. COTTLE, ed. News, Public Relations and Power London: Sage, pp. 27-42.
  • FOREST., 2014. About Forest: Frequently Asked Questions [online]. [viewed 06 November 2014]. Available from:
  • FRASER, D., 2004. Public smoking ban could be in force by 2006 The Herald [online] Glasgow, 01 September [viewed 07 November 2014]. Available from: /spl/aberdeen/public-smoking-ban-could-be-in-force-by-2006-1.76648
  • GOLDING, P. and ELLIOT, P., 2009. News Value and News Production. In: S. THORNHAM, C. BASSETT and P. MARRIS, eds. Media Studies: A Reader. 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 635-647.
  • GORDON, T., 2005. Tories try to light up smoke ban challenge on McConnell’s doorstep The Herald [online] Glasgow, 03 January [viewed 07 November 2014]. Available from:
  • HALLAHAN, K., 1999. Seven Models of Framing: Implications for Public Relations. Journal of Public Relations Research. Vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 205-242.
  • HERALD, THE., 2004. When the smoke clears; Ban is purely and simply about the nation’s health The Herald [online] Glasgow, 26 October [viewed 07 November 2014]. Available from:
  • IHLEN, Ø., 2009. On Bourdieu: Public Relations in Field Struggles. In: Ø. IHLEN, B. VAN RULER and M. FREDRIKSSON, eds. Public Relations and Social Theory: Key Figures and Concepts New York and Oxford: Routledge, pp. 301-322.
  • KOLKER, E.S., 2004. Framing as a Cultural Resource in Health Social Movements: Funding Activism and the Breast Cancer Movement in the US 1990-1993. Sociology of Health & Illness. Vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 820-844.
  • MCQUHAIL, D. and WINDAHL, S., 1993. Communication Models for the Study of Mass Communication. 2nd ed. Harlow: Pearson Education.
  • NHS Health Scotland and ASH Scotland. 2003. Reducing Smoking and Tobacco-related Harm: A Key to Transforming Scotland’s Health Edinburgh: Health Scotland.
  • O’KEEFE, D.J., 2002. Persuasion: Theory and Research. 2nd Ed. London: Sage.
  • PEARSON, B., 2006. Some regulars won’t be back in. I’m very worried Publicans are fearing what the ban will mean for their business. Can they survive? Publicans are fearing what the ban will mean for their business. Can they survive? SCOTLAND: A SMOKING FREE ZONE Part three of a special Herald series The Herald [online] Glasgow, 22 March [viewed 05 November 2014]. Available from: accountid=12269
  • PUTTICK, H., 2004. Smoking ban ‘not a realistic option yet’ Chief medical officer points to lack of public support The Herald [online] Glasgow, 03 March [viewed 05 November 2014]. Available from:
  • SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT,. 2004. Clearing the Air: National Consultation 2004 [online]. [viewed 07 November 2014]. Available from: ltation-summary.html
  • SLTA., 2014. Industry Support [online]. [viewed 06 November 2014]. Available from:
  • Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act. 2005. London: HMSO.
  • WÆRAAS, A., 2009. On Weber: Legitimacy and Legitimation in Public Relations. In: Ø. IHLEN, B. VAN RULER and M. FREDRIKSSON, eds. Public Relations and Social Theory: Key Figures and Concepts New York and Oxford: Routledge, pp. 301-322.
  • WATTS, D., 2007. Pressure Groups. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • WOLFSFELD, G., 2003. The Political Contest Model. In: S. COTTLE, ed. News, Public Relations and Power London: Sage, pp. 81-95.

[1] ‘Most of our money is donated by UK-based tobacco companies’ (Forest 2014).

[2] ‘In theory, any organisation that succeeds in conveying the impression of itself as exceptional and extraordinary and in cultivating the belief that it is so, could acquire a status as [charismatically] legitimate’ (Wæraas 2009, p. 306).

[3] Two additional frames introduced by the challengers and not covered in this section due to limitations of space were the idea that a ban would be unenforceable and openly flouted (Puttick 2004); and the idea that a ban would open up a black market.

[4] While the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party supported the SLTA’s stance in the debate, for reasons of space limitations, political parties are not discussed. It should be noted, however, that there was a party-political element to the debate (Gordon 2005).

[5] O’Keefe (2002) argues that an actor taking a position that ‘deconfirms’ their expected position by going against what would appear to be their logical interests can assume a higher degree of legitimacy.

[6] It could be argued that it met Golding and Elliot’s (2009) brevity and negativity values.

[7] Additionally, the Dance model helps illustrate that the health framing built upon pre-existing public discourse on the negative health impact of smoking.

[8] The Scottish Executive did receive direct feedback from a consultation on the legislation (Scottish Government 2004).

[9] See, in particular, Gordon (2005) for a fine example of political posturing as a dramatic news value.