Hyper-local public health policy change: a case study of the SmokeFree Birmingham campaign
This paper is a qualitative study of the role of public relations in the success of a federally funded anti-smoking public health campaign in Jefferson County, Alabama, from 2010-12. The goal of the campaign was to advance smoke-free policies (i.e., laws forbidding smoking in public places such as restaurants, bars, workplaces, public buildings and areas, etc.) in the various municipalities across Jefferson County. Each municipal campaign was implemented independently. The paper looks specifically at the SmokeFree Birmingham campaign, which resulted in the successful passage and implementation of a smoke-free ordinance after two public hearings on the proposed law. The campaign's public relations relied heavily on opinion leadership, the core of Katz and Lazarsfeld's (1955) two-step flow of communication theory, to influence public opinion in support of the stated policy goals. According to Mutz (2011), "one of the very earliest theories about interactions between mass and interpersonal communication-- the two-step flow-- is now more relevant than ever before" (p. 1019). This paper revisits the two-step flow theory in the age of social media as a communications model for hyper-local public policy campaigns.