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

Novel ways of using tobacco packaging to deter smoking – University of Stirling – PhD opportunity

About This Project

Packaging is an important marketing tool for tobacco companies, helping to capture attention, create brand awareness, foster positive brand attitudes and communicate product attributes. For smokers, the pack is their personal choice, a statement of their identity, something that stays with them wherever they go and something that it is typically seen countless times a day. The pack turns a generic product into a bespoke marque. Even for non-smokers, tobacco packaging is a familiar feature of life, whether within shops, as litter or in the hands of smoking friends and relatives. It is unsurprising, then, that tobacco companies have been very creative in their use of all elements of the pack – colour, shape and design, the cellophane wrapper, inserts, and the cigarette itself – to communicate the positive qualities of the product and the brand.

SP-TPDMock_upLoresGovernments have also recognised the importance of packaging as a communications tool. Health warnings, for instance, first appeared on cigarette packs almost half a century ago in the UK, and over time have increased in size and now include pictures. These warnings are a cost-effective and credible means of informing of the health risks of smoking. From May 2017 standardised packaging will be implemented, which will essentially leave all packs looking the same and make the health warnings stand out even more.

Much more could still be done with the packaging however. For instance, pack inserts are an inexpensive means of communication, and have been widely used by tobacco companies. Could the use of inserts, with positively framed messages encouraging smokers to quit and promoting self-efficacy to do so, be of value within the UK? There is also the cigarette itself, which tobacco industry journals refer to as an increasingly important promotional tool. While at a very early stage, academics have begun to explore the possibility of using the appearance of the cigarette to deter smoking, for instance unattractively coloured cigarettes or cigarettes displaying health warnings. Further research exploring these ideas, or the many other potential ways to reduce the appeal of cigarettes, would be of significant value.

There are likely many other possibilities of using the pack to discourage non-smokers from starting and encourage smokers to stop. Supposing, for example, the pack had an audio warning when it was opened? Or it featured a Quick Response barcode on the pack that could direct smartphone users to a stop-smoking service, or similar innovations using barcodes, like augmented reality, which could direct the user to social networking campaigns. The options are many and varied. As the Scottish Government has set a target date for reducing smoking prevalence to less than 5% of the population, and packaging is seen as a crucial platform for health promotion, this PhD could help generate ideas that could help reach this target.

This PhD would have two key objectives:
• To explore the range of possible health promoting packaging innovations, and
• To explore how consumers respond to some of these measures.

For More information and to apply for this PhD click here.

Landmark report reviewing #alcohol policies across the UK! @NiamhCreate @VictimOfMaths @UK_AHA @A4UEvidence

UK Government’s alcohol policies are weaker than devolved nations!

The UK Government’s alcohol policies are weaker than those implemented by the devolved nations, a landmark report from the Universities of Stirling and Sheffield has found. Alcohol policies across the four UK nations vary widely in the extent to which they are grounded in scientific evidence, with political considerations appearing to have significant bearing, the research shows.

The report was commissioned by the Alliance for Useful Evidence and reviewed policies from the UK Government and devolved administrations against recommendations from Health First, the independent expert-devised UK alcohol strategy, in the first such audit of its kind.  Overall strategy, pricing, marketing and availability of alcohol were amongst the areas examined.

Scotland had the strongest approach overall, seeking to implement the most evidence-based policies, working to clear outcomes, and with a taskforce in place to monitor and evaluate the Scottish Government’s alcohol strategy.

By contrast, the UK Government did not support the most effective policies, made inconsistent use of evidence, and was the most engaged with the alcohol industry.

While Wales and Northern Ireland took strong positions in areas such as taxation and restrictions on young drivers, they have fewer legislative powers than the Scottish Parliament.

The report was co-authored by Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, at the University of Stirling and Colin Angus at the University of Sheffield.

Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, University of Stirling – Lecturer in Alcohol Studies

“Alcohol policy at UK Government level is in disarray, with it choosing to reduce taxation despite evidence that consumption and alcohol-related harms will increase as a result, putting even greater pressure on NHS and emergency services.

In contrast to the UK Government, the devolved administrations – especially Scotland – are taking steps to address the widespread harms due to alcohol, recognising that they are a ‘whole population’ issue. All four nations, however, engage in partnership with the alcohol industry, despite clear conflicts of interest and its history of failure to support those policies most likely to work.

Colin Angus, University of Sheffield – Sheffield Alcohol Research Group

“A clear illustration of the gap in effective policy across the UK relates to the marketing of alcohol. The devolved administrations have indicated support for mandatory action on product labelling, but the UK government has favoured self-regulation which has proven ineffective, with over 40 percent of products on the shelf still failing to meet the industry’s own best practice guidelines.

On alcohol advertising, a reserved matter, the devolved administrations have called for stronger regulation to protect children, but this approach has been rejected by the former UK coalition government. The Scottish Government is currently updating its alcohol strategy while the other devolved nations continue to progress evidence-based policies to reduce alcohol harms. It may be that they will call for greater powers to go it alone in bringing in effective policy options, if Westminster is not prepared to act.”

Peter O’Neill, Alliance for Useful Evidence – Evidence Exchange Manager

“Devolution in the UK provides opportunities for exchange of evidence and learning about what works through experimentation with different policies across the four nations. This report calls on administrations to support such learning, by engaging openly and maturely with the alcohol policy evidence, being honest about reasons for policy decisions, and robustly evaluating policy initiatives. Unfortunately, the report also suggests that alcohol policy may sometimes be underpinned by ideology more than by evidence, and is likely to be less effective as a result.”

Four Nations: How Evidence-based are Alcohol Policies and Programmes Across the UK? has been presented to representatives of the four administrations as part of the work of the British-Irish Council, which meets later this month.