New Systematic Review: Effectiveness of Mass Media Campaigns to Reduce Alcohol Consumption and Harm

This systematic review, published in Alcohol and Alcoholism, assessed the effectiveness of mass media messages to reduce alcohol consumption and related harms. Eight databases were searched along with reference lists of eligible studies. Studies of any design in any country were included, provided that they evaluated a mass media intervention targeting alcohol consumption or related behavioural, social cognitive or clinical outcomes. This was the first comprehensive systematic review of evidence of the effectiveness of mass media to reduce alcohol consumption, allowing those who make decisions about whether and how to develop and implement such campaigns to do so informed by a synthesis of the evidence base.
a&a1The search produced 10,212 results and 24 studies were included in the review. Most of the campaigns used TV or radio in combination with other media channels. There was little evidence of reduction in alcohol consumption associated with exposure to campaigns based on 13 studies which measured consumption, although most did not state this as a specific aim of the campaign. There were some increases in treatment seeking and information seeking and mixed evidence of changes in intentions, motivation, beliefs and attitudes about alcohol. Campaigns were associated with increases in knowledge about alcohol consumption, especially where levels had initially been low.The evidence suggests mass media health campaigns about alcohol can be recalled by individuals and can achieve changes in knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about alcohol, based mainly on weak quality studies. Findings of studies that measured alcohol consumption suggest campaigns have not reduced consumption, although most did not state that they directly aim to do so.

The finding that campaigns can be recalled suggests appropriate media channels, targeting strategies, durations and intensities have been utilized to reach target audiences. These campaign characteristics were not always reported by studies so it is not possible to draw a link between types of campaign strategies and levels of recall or exposure. Recall of tobacco mass media campaigns has been shown to be positively associated with smoking cessation (Jepson et al., 2007) so the outcome may be an important first step towards subsequent behaviour change in populations.

Most campaigns that aimed to improve knowledge were shown to be effective. This was particularly evident in areas where knowledge was initially low, for example, knowledge of unit consumption guidelines and of the link between alcohol and cancer. Mass media can yield sustained knowledge, which may lay the groundwork for reductions in consumption that are achieved using other public health measures.

There was evidence of increases in information seeking and treatment seeking. However, alcohol campaigns have not presented the simple call to action of tobacco messages (‘quit’) or provided offers of tangible help such as ‘quitlines’. Furthermore, as alcohol support services have historically been aimed at very heavy drinkers there may be a perception that current services do not cater for those who drink less. Mass media might therefore have limited utility in promoting service uptake.

Most studies found no impact on alcohol consumption, consistent with the conclusion of a previous review that there should be modest expectations of behaviour change from such campaigns (Snyder et al., 2004). Longer term evaluations conducted following sustained and repeated exposure to campaigns might be expected to be better able to detect effects on behaviour. However, the relationship between tobacco mass media campaign duration and effectiveness has been difficult to gauge due to confounding influences and trends over time (Durkin et al., 2012). The context in which alcohol health promotion campaigns operate is particularly challenging because of the ubiquity and power of alcohol marketing (de Bruijn et al., 2016) and pro-alcohol cultural norms (Gordon et al., 2012). This is another key difference to tobacco, where health campaigns in recent years have run in a context where most tobacco marketing has been banned or strictly regulated and social norms have become increasingly anti-smoking. The current review found evidence of impact on short term intermediate outcomes, suggesting mass media can play a supportive role for other actions which are more likely to have an impact on behaviour. These might include price-based measures (Babor et al., 2010), advertising restrictions (Siegfried et al., 2014), limiting availability and access to alcohol (Anderson et al., 2009) with the targeting of high risk groups (Foxcroft et al., 2015).

Alcohol and Alcoholism
Published: 10 January 2018

Society for the Study of Addiction – Annual Conference 2017

9th – 10th November 2017
Crowne Plaza, Newcastle, UK

Confirmed sessions include:

  • Sport & exercise in addiction and recovery with personal reflections from Clarke Carlisle.
  • End of life care for people with substance problems.
  • The psychedelic renaissance in addiction treatment.
  • Pathways to amphetamine type stimulant use.



‘This Society believes it is appropriate to expand the concept of addiction to behaviours such as internet use’

With Professor Robert West & Professor Mark Griffiths

SSA PhD Symposium 2017

New for 2017, the SSA’s PhD Symposium will be held the day before our annual Conference, in the same venue.

The SSA’s symposium for PhD students is now in its ninth year. This event aims to bring together PhD students studying addiction-related topics so they can network, present their work in a low-key, supportive environment and share their ups and downs. It welcomes full and part-time students, studying in a range of disciplines including social sciences, laboratory sciences and health services research. The day includes presentations from students at various stages in the PhD process and some close to or who have recently submitted their thesis.

There is a social event in the evening of the PhD Symposium, and throughout the day there is plenty of opportunity to talk to other delegates.


For more information about this event please visit:


Photos from the UKCRC conference June 2017 – Progress & Pathways

The UKCRC Public Health Research Centres of Excellence are building academic capacity, increasing infrastructure and promoting multi-disciplinary working in public health research in the UK. The Centres are bringing leading research experts together with practitioners, policy makers and wider stakeholders to tackle complex public health issues.

The seventh annual UKCRC Centres conference was co-hosted by DECIPHer, Fuse, and the Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland, in partnership with CEDAR, UKCTAS and SCPHRP. This year the event focused on the successes of the UKCRC initiative over the last nine years, showcasing the achievements of the public health research Centres in relation to three themes:

  • capacity development
  • systems change and partnerships; and
  • impact through innovation.

The one day conference was an opportunity for public health researchers, policy makers, practitioners and funders across the UK to exchange knowledge on world class research, innovative public health practices and successful collaborations. Researchers from UKCTAS presented at the conference on a number of different topic including, harm reduction, e-cigarettes, public engagement and development of the UK’s drinking guidelines.

Below are a few pictures from the event, more can be seen on our twitter feed.

Prof Linda Bauld on E-cigarette use during pregnancy at GFN 2017

Global Forum on Nicotine 2017 – ‘Reducing Harm, Saving Lives’

E-cigarette use during pregnancy – What do we know?

At the June Global Forum on Nicotine event Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Stirling and Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, presented an update on e-cigarette use during pregnancy. In the presentation Linda highlights the latest research, a brief overview of smoking in pregnancy and why pregnant women who are still smoking should be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes.

External link for video: E-cigarette use during pregnancy – Professor Linda Bauld

Other links:

Smokefree action’s info-graphic on e-cigarettes in pregnancy

To see other presentations from the conference click here.

Latest press release from UKCTAS:

Vaping may help explain the record fall in UK smoking rates


Enough alcohol was sold in Scotland in 2016 for every adult to significantly exceed safe drinking levels each week

New figures published this week reveal that enough alcohol is being sold in England and Wales for every drinker to consume 21 units of alcohol a week – far more than the low-risk level of 14 units per week for both men and women recommended by the UK’s chief medical officers. The figures reveal that the situation is even worse in Scotland, with enough alcohol being sold for every drinker to consume 24 units a week. The data was released by NHS Health Scotland, who also looked at consumption in England and Wales in order to compare patterns across the UK. In 2016 10.5 litres of pure alcohol were sold per adult in Scotland, equivalent to 20.2 units per person per week!

“As a nation we buy enough alcohol for every person in Scotland to exceed the weekly drinking guideline substantially” Lucie Giles (author of the report)

The annual report from NHS Health Scotland brings together data on alcohol retail sales, price and affordability, self-reported consumption and alcohol-related deaths, hospital admissions and social harms. It found that in 2015 an average of 22 people per week died in Scotland due to an alcohol-related cause, a figure 54 per cent higher than that recorded in England and Wales. In the most deprived areas of Scotland alcohol-related death rates were six times higher than in the wealthiest areas. Rates of alcohol-related hospital stays were also nine times higher.

However, the report said there were some signs that Scots were curtailing their drinking habits, with self-reported data showing that the proportion of tee-totallers has also risen.

“This has harmful consequences for individuals, their family and friends as well as wider society and the economy. The harm that alcohol causes to our health is not distributed equally; the harmful effects are felt most by those living in the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland.” Lucie Giles

To tackle high levels of alcohol-related deaths and illness, Scotland is set to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol; designed to target cheap, high-% alcohol drinks favoured by vulnerable and harmful drinkers.. The Scottish government passed minimum unit pricing over 5 years ago, though implementation of the measure has so far been delayed due to legal challenges from the alcohol industry. Minimum unit pricing formed part of the Westminster government’s alcohol strategy in 2012, though has yet to be implemented in England and Wales. 

“This report shows that, whilst some progress has been made in tackling alcohol misuse, we need to do more. Over the last few years, more than half of alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences was sold at less than 50p per unit, and enough alcohol was sold in the off-trade alone to exceed the weekly drinking guideline by a considerable amount. That is why we need minimum unit pricing, which will largely impact on the off-trade and will increase the price of the cheap, high strength alcohol.”  Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell

Responding to the publication of the figures, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said: 

“These figures are shocking and show why minimum unit pricing is needed in Scotland, as well as in the rest of the UK. As a result of the legal challenges from the alcohol industry, lives will undoubtedly have been lost in Scotland. We hope and expect minimum unit pricing to be ruled legal in the final court hearing in this case in July, so that implementation in Scotland can follow.

“If minimum unit pricing is ruled legal in Scotland, a decision by Westminster to delay would be a death sentence for some, including many from the lowest income groups. The evidence is already clear – minimum unit pricing saves lives, prevents illness and lowers hospital admissions.”

The NHS Health Scotland figures are available here.

For more information on Minimum Unit Pricing, check out a report from the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group.

More posts related to this one:
Alcohol-related Hospital Admissions are at a Record High!
“Government has ‘no sense of direction’ in reducing devastating alcohol harm” Lord Brooke
Experts call for action on HIGH STRENGTH CIDER to protect the homeless and the vulnerable.



Congratulations to Suzi Gage for winning the AAAS Early Career Public Engagement Award!

Suzanne Gage, a scientist whose podcast, “Say Why To Drugs,” has received over 264,000 listens, has been chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to receive the 2016 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-09-32-03Gage recently completed her post-doctoral research in the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, and is now a scientist at the University of Liverpool. She also founded “Sifting the Evidence,” a blog on The Guardian’s website in which she examines epidemiology, mental health and substance abuse. She is being honored by AAAS for “her evidence-based approach to public engagement activities and targeting audiences who may not be actively seeking science information.”

Gage is a “highly talented, enthusiastic and energetic young researcher who promises to be a real star of the future,” wrote Marcus Munafò, a professor of biological psychology at the University of Bristol, where Gage was a post-doctoral research associate until December. Through her blog and podcast, Munafò wrote, “Suzi has worked tirelessly to provide information to the general public about the scientific evidence surrounding the effects of recreational drugs.”

Her podcast, which she was inspired to produce after appearing on rapper Scroobius Pip’s podcast, discusses a different recreational drug in each episode. Gage aims to counter misinformation and myths surrounding various substances. Munafò noted that Pip’s involvement in the podcast has helped Gage reach an audience of young adults who might not otherwise receive the information. Pip emphasized that the program is not meant to condone drug use.

“This is not a pro-drugs podcast, this is not anti-drugs podcast,” Pip explained, “this is pro-truth and anti-myth.”

The podcast has topped the Science and Medicine chart in the iTunes store and has received support on Twitter, including from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. It also won the Skeptic Magazine 2016 Ockham Award for Best Podcast. Munafò wrote that the show has also been used by teachers to introduce their students to evidence-based thinking.

Gage has also traveled across the United Kingdom, speaking at “Skeptics in the Pub,” evening events hosted by local organizations to promote critical thinking. She has spoken at the Royal Institution of Great Britain and music festivals in the UK.

She engaged with younger audiences in 2011 by participating in “I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here,” an online event where students meet and interact with scientists. The scientists compete with one other, answering questions about science and their research that are provided by students, who then vote for their favorite scientist. Gage won in the “Brain Zone” category and used the winnings to start her podcast.

Gage’s work in public engagement was recognized in 2012, when she won the UK Science Blog Prize, and in 2013, when she received the British Association for Psychopharmacology Public Communication Award. She has also written for The Economist, The Telegraph and The Lancet Psychiatry.

Gage’s recent scientific work in studying the relationship between health behaviors and mental health outcomes has included investigating causal associations from observational studies, with particular emphasis on substance use and mental health. She earned a Master of Science degree in cognitive neuropsychology from University College London in 2005 and a Ph.D. in translational epidemiology from the University of Bristol in 2014. Her research also earned her the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Travel Award in 2012. More recently, she received the Society for Research in Nicotine and Tobacco’s 2015 Basic Science Network Travel Award.

The AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science was established in 2010 to recognize “early-career scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in their contribution to public engagement with science activities.” The recipient receives a monetary prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, complimentary registration to the AAAS Annual Meeting and reimbursement for reasonable travel and hotel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting to receive the prize.

The award will be bestowed upon Gage during the 183rd AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, Feb. 16-20, 2017. The AAAS Awards Ceremony and Reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, in the Republic Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

images-duckduckgo-comSuzanne Gage completed her post-doctoral research at the University of Bristol and is now a scientist at the University of Liverpool. She has written for The GuardianThe Economist, The Telegraph and The Lancet Psychiatry.