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.

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Thinking about Drinking: A Year in the Life of an Alcohol Researcher at Stirling

Niamh was active in helping the media understand the implications of theniamhfitzgerald 2016 new alcohol guidelines. In this blog post she discusses what happened as a result of the publication of the new guidelines and how the media portray the facts in their own way.

By Niamh Fitzgerald, Research Profile, @NiamhCreate

Journalists love a good alcohol story, especially at this time of year, and January 2016 gave them the ideal ammunition with the publication of new advice from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) designed to provide people with ‘accurate information and clear advice about alcohol and its health risks’.  For the first time, the guidance advised that ‘no level of regular drinking can be considered completely safe’ and advised the same limit for both men and women – not to regularly drink above 14 units of alcohol (about 1 and a half bottles of wine) per week, at the same time moving away from the previous daily limits.  The guidance was based on a lengthy process involving experts from around the UK including Prof. Gerard Hastings (from Stirling) and followed emerging evidence on the links between alcohol and cancer – kicking off a furore of media coverage.

Media coverage following the publication of the new guidelines

The Daily Mail led with the news that the guidelines would ‘put a stop to the belief that red wine is good for you in moderation, while the Sun also focused on this ‘plonk lovers’ shock’ as the CMO’s ‘rubbished’ the supposed health benefits of wine.

alcohol-daily-mail

Others focused on the cancer risk, with the Scotsman leading with ‘drinkers at risk of cancer from single glass of wine’; whereas the Telegraph headline was ‘health chiefs attacked for nanny state alcohol guidelines’.  It was a frantic week for colleagues and I at the Institute for Social Marketing (ISM) as we sought to capture all of the newspaper, television and radio coverage for future analysis.  As Lecturer in Alcohol Studies at ISM, and lead for teaching and public engagement on alcohol for the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS), I was interviewed about the new guidelines on BBC News for their ‘Ask This’ feature, which takes questions from viewers.  I also had a comment piece published in The Scotsman. Continue reading

Dr Jo Cranwell discusses alcohol content & advertising in the media at a meeting of the European Parliament | University of Bath

Dr Jo Cranwell, Assistant Professor in Public Health at the University of Bath and UKCTAS research fellow delivered the keynote presentation at a meeting of the European Parliament held to discuss the revision of the Audio Visual Media Services Directive. (The EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive governs EU-wide coordination of national legislation on all audiovisual media, both traditional TV broadcasts and on-demand services.)

Jo was invited as a keynote speaker to discuss the work conducted by researchers at the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies on alcohol content and advertising in traditional and digital media.

Here are a few pictures from the meeting:

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To see more about tobacco and alcohol content in the media click here!

How does social context affect people’s drinking patterns in Scotland | GCU | Video Report

The Substance Use and Misuse Research Group at Glasgow Caledonian University is examining Scotland’s relationship with alcohol and developing interventions to reduce harm.

A UK-wide team of researchers from the University of Bedfordshire, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glyndwr University Wales and Queens University Belfast, found hidden harm among the over 50s, poor use of available services, little knowledge of safe drinking levels, and stigma.

The survey into the drinking behaviours of more than 16,700 people across the UK found that a sense of shame might prevent older drinkers from asking for help to reduce their alcohol use. One in four respondents said they would not know where to go for help, nor would they tell anyone if they needed it.

Visit: Scottish health action on alcohol Problems

 

LGBT STUDY: The social context of LGBT people’s drinking in Scotland

Dr Carol Emslie, Ms Jemma Lennox and Dr Lana Ireland

Experts say WHO needs better understanding of the evidence on e-cigs to inform its international tobacco control treaty.

A new WHO report fails to properly evaluate the evidence on e-cigarettes and could even undermine international efforts to reduce smoking, says a group of UK based academics.

UK academics are calling for better understanding of the potential benefits of e-cigarettes to reducing the smoking pandemic ahead of an international gathering of countries that have signed the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.

The 7th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global public health treaty, will be held in Delhi, India from 7th-12th November 2016. At this meeting, Parties to the treaty (countries and other jurisdictions) will discuss whether similar policy measures recommended to reduce tobacco use should be applied to e-cigarettes.

In advance of the COP the World Health Organisation published a report about Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDDS), also known as e-cigarettes. This aimed to summarise the evidence about these devices.

Academics from the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence, have today published a robust critique of the WHO report setting out a series of concerns about the content of the document which, in their view, screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-12-37-14does not fairly represent existing evidence on e-cigarettes. Their critique examines each element of the WHO report and identifies flaws in the way the evidence is presented and problems with how the report could be interpreted, potentially encouraging countries to adopt excessive restrictions on e-cigarettes which could undermine efforts to reduce smoking.

The UKCTAS critique points to evidence set out in the recent Royal College of Physician’s’ report ‘Nicotine without Smoke’ and subsequent research which recognise that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking and that smokers who find it difficult to stop should be encouraged to use them.

The WHO report fails to accurately present what is already known about e-cigarettes. In particular, it: positions e-cigarettes as a threat rather than an opportunity to reduce smoking; fails to accurately quantify any risks of e-cigarettes compared with smoking; misrepresents existing evidence about any harms to bystanders; discounts the fact that e-cigarettes are helping smokers to quit; does not recognise the place of some promotion of e-cigarettes to encourage smokers to switch to these less harmful products; fails to understand that the flavours in e-cigarettes are useful for people trying to stop smoking; mischaracterises the current e-cigarette market screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-12-39-18and appears to support very restrictive policies on e-cigarettes without including any good policy analysis. In addition, the WHO report does not acknowledge that significant restrictions on e-cigarettes could lead to unintended consequences, including increases in smoking.

Finally, the researchers point out that the WHO briefing is based on four unpublished papers which are still undergoing peer review, which does not allow for open, transparent scrutiny of the evidence. This does not, therefore, provide a good basis for policy making and risks undermining rather than promoting the aims of the FCTC, which is a treaty that was designed to help countries reduce smoking rates and save lives.

To read the full report click here.

Continue reading

Big Tobacco’s dirty tricks in opposing plain packaging

conversation.PNGBig Tobacco’s dirty tricks in opposing plain packaging – Dr Jenny Hatchard

Originally posted: October 17, 2016 1.38pm BST

Tobacco companies want to sell you cigarettes – today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. Whether you’re at the tobacco counter or out with friends, glitzy cigarette packaging is a really important part of their sales pitch. Tobacco companies are aware of this. It’s why they are so opposed to their cigarettes being put in plain packaging.

But it isn’t just tobacco companies that are against plain packaging. In the UK, where plain packaging was introduced in 2016, business associations, think tanks and civil society groups publicly campaigned against the policy and academics, research consultants and public relations and law firms variously wrote lengthy reports and lobbied the government.

But why would these organisations lobby against plain packaging? On looking into these opposition groups, our recent research gives a clear answer. Opponents of plain packaging tend to have links to the tobacco industry. So much so that three-quarters of organisations identified in our study had financial links to tobacco companies.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Decades of research into political activity by the tobacco industry has shown that “third parties” are used to campaign against tobacco-control policies. Health advocates are aware of this. In 2005, the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control committed the countries that signed the convention to protect tobacco policy from interference by the tobacco industry and, crucially, groups linked to them. In response, in 2011, the UK government committed to publishing details of any policy meetings with tobacco companies and the Department of Health routinely requests disclosure of tobacco industry links. So far so good. In doing so, the UK sets a strong example.

Third party interference

But our research shows how “third party” opposition to tobacco control policies extends tobacco industry interference beyond this realm of government. In a three-year period which included the 2012 government consultation on plain packaging, 88% of research and 78% of public communications opposing plain packaging were carried out by organisations with financial links to tobacco companies (see figure 1). And public and retailer campaigns funded by tobacco companies to mobilise opposition to plain packaging generated 98% of the more than 420,000 negative postcard and petition submissions to the consultation.

Figure 1 Author provided

In this way, ideas and arguments that come from tobacco companies and their research spill into public spaces. Once there, they can influence the public and political mood on life-saving tobacco control policies and create a misleading impression of diverse and widespread opposition. This is known in the world of political science as “conflict expansion”. And the potential effects are significant. When widespread, these “third party” activities can work to delay and even prevent policies: it took four years to get from consultation to implementation in the UK.

This wouldn’t be so serious if organisations and tobacco companies were open about their relationships. But, in many cases, links were not easy for the research team to detect. Of 150 examples of public communications, less than 20% explicitly acknowledged tobacco industry connections. And, while academics and research consultants tended to clearly report funding sources, “third parties” promoting their research in press releases, news stories and letters to government, frequently did not.

If they were open about their financial relationships with tobacco firms, business and civil society organisations would give the public, politicians and officials the opportunity to scrutinise their arguments and evidence in context. In the case of plain packaging, a lack of openness masked these links and lent credibility to claims that the policy lacked evidence and would increase the trade in illicit cigarettes – claims which have been shown to be unfounded by both peer-reviewed research and by the High Court in Britain. Now, as more countries move to introduce plain packaging, “third party” transparency remains an issue.

In order to help countries guard against tobacco industry interference, awareness can be raised of the effects of their activities on public and political debates. And steps could be taken to make their relationships with tobacco companies clearer. A compulsory register of tobacco companies’ memberships, political activities and associated spending would be a strong first move.

There is strong global commitment to addressing the problem of tobacco industry interference. Parties to the framework convention meet in India in November amid concerns about this issue, and the message to the tobacco industry from the WHO is clear: “The world understands who you are and what you do, and is determined to stamp out the global plague which you do so much to spread.”