Methods: A qualitative thematic content analysis of media coverage of the restrictions (the ‘ban’) in UK newspapers and trade press was followed by a document analysis of arguments against the ban. A search period of 1st March 2018 to 31st May 2019 covered: (i) the launch of the public consultation on the ban in May 2018; (ii) the announcement of the ban in November 2018; and (iii) its implementation in February 2019. A systematic search of printed and online publications in English distributed in the UK or published on UK-specific websites identified 152 articles.
Results: Arguments in favour of the ban focused on inequalities and childhood obesity. Arguments against the ban centred on two claims: that childhood obesity was not the ‘right’ priority; and that an advertising ban was not an effective way to address childhood obesity. These claims were justified via three discursive approaches: (i) claiming more ‘important’ priorities for action; (ii) disputing the science behind the ban; (iii) emphasising potential financial costs of the ban.
Conclusion: The discursive tactics used in media sources to argue against the ban draw on frames widely used by unhealthy commodities industries in response to structural public health interventions. Our analyses highlight the need for interventions to be framed in ways that can pre-emptively counter common criticisms.