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Facing the Consequences

The government and the drinks industry are instigating new measures to tackle problem drinking – including a multimillion pound campaign, a helpful new website for young people and a charity single. Patrick Schmitt reports

There may have only been a small audience, but in London’s Westminster, on Wednesday 12 December, a number of drinks industry milestones were announced. First of these was news that a highly novel website designed to educate young people on the dangers of excessive drinking was live. Second was confirmation of a tie-up between the Drinkaware Trust and Crisis, a charity for the homeless, which will culminate in the launch of a record called Consequences. Third was the information that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) was releasing recalculated alcohol-related data to show that consumption was 32% higher than previously reported. Lastly, there was news that the government is committing £10 million to a fresh “Know your limits” campaign and that it would begin in the spring, with a three-pronged approach.
This collection of announcements proved that both the government and the drinks industry are taking significant steps in reducing alcohol-related harm, armed with more accurate statistics and increased funding.
Firstly, the website. Called, it is an initiative from The Drinkaware Trust and an extension of the organisation’s existing web offering, The aim, as reported in this month’s interview, pages 18-20, is to tackle the issue of youth drinking, using suggestions from teenagers. The site was developed by marketing agency The Lounge. As the company’s MD James Layfield explained at the launch, “Drinking among under 18s is a complicated issue and a focus group wouldn’t be able to find out the necessary information, you have to get under their skin, get inside their natural habitats.” To do this The Lounge has been talking to a cross section of under 18s through blogs and mobile phones to see how alcohol fits within their lives. These insights have been used to create a “relevant” website, which allows users to look at case studies and discuss alcohol-related topics in forums. “The website gives under 18s an opportunity to address drinking on their own terms,” said Collingwood, who is keen to increase the percentage of young people Drinkaware talks to.

Secondly, the Drinkaware-Crisis partnership. This involves Drinkaware sponsoring a project called Crisis Consequences which will involve the release of a record called Consequences, created by a superband including the likes of Paul Weller, Beth Ditto and Pearl Lowe. “The object is to engage with people through a medium at the heart of their lifestyle – music – and we have been very lucky to attract a large number of global music icons,” said Andy Page, marketing director for Crisis. A single has already been recorded and Page believes it “has number-one potential”. The initiative will raise money through record sales and tickets to Consequences Live, an all day music festival at The Roundhouse, Camden (2 March 2008).   

Raising awareness
“When people buy the record they will see the Drinkaware logo on it and we hope it will sell over one million copies,” explains Collingwood on the potential to raise awareness of Drinkaware through the sponsorship, while supporting another charitable organisation. She also said,  “Many people become homeless as a result of dependency on alcohol which has started in their early teens. By working together [with Crisis] to make the under 20s aware of the consequences of alcohol misuse, we hope to help prevent dependency and the possibility of homelessness in later life.”
Thirdly, the ONS recalculation. Nick Lawrence, programme manager for substance misuse at the Department of Health, explained that the methods used to estimate alcohol consumption in drinking surveys has been updated to reflect an increase in alcoholic strength of some drinks as well as larger measures. He cited, for example, higher ABV wines and the replacement of 125ml glasses for 175ml or larger. When the updated methodology is applied to General Household Survey data for 2005, it apparently shows average weekly alcohol consumption as approximately one third more, up from 10.8 units to 14.3 units. “It is 32% higher than previously reported,” said Lawrence. However, Jeremy Beadles pointed out that despite the results of this recalibration on how people self-report, “overall consumption figures are dropping, and that is based on tax take, not self reporting”.

The first full results using the ONS updated methodology will be available with the publication of the annual reports from the 2006 General Household Survey and the 2007 ONS Omnibus survey on 22 January.
Finally, the government’s “Know your limits” campaign for the year ahead. “A multimillion pound communication campaign will be launched in spring,” proclaimed Lawrence. The plan is to tackle binge drinking and underage drinking and to raise awareness of alcohol units – and the government has more than doubled its spend. £4m was spent on “Know your limits” TV, cinema and radio advertising in 2006 and then £4m in 2007, but £10m has been set aside for this year. “We will start the process of changing public tolerance of drunken behaviour,” said Lawrence, “and raise awareness of how drinking can harm human health.” 2008’s approach will also “tie in with the introduction of unit labelling and guidelines to sensible consumption on drinks packaging,” he added.

Insider Opinion

Nick Lawrence, Department of Health
“The Drinkaware Trust is a demonstration of the alcohol industry’s commitment to deliver change. It is independent and expert… and we look to work with them on delivering campaigns.
”But Drinkaware’s success is dependent on the support of the alcohol industry and we are looking for more.”   

Dr Nick Sheron, head of clinical hepatology, Southampton University
“We are not trying to stop drinking but to stop the harm associated with it. We don’t want to see a society with more restrictions and regulations, we need to get smarter by tackling those people running into trouble with alcohol… the median amount a Southampton student drinks on a Friday night is 20 units. We need to show them that they can have as good a time drinking a lot less.”

Jeremy Beadles, chief executive, WSTA
“ is very impressive, I think they’ve got it right. Teenagers are a very difficult audience to talk to – the likes of a public service broadcast from the government is not going to touch these people. Neither is a message about liver sclerosis because young people think they are indestructible. You have to do it in their own language.”

Jean Collingwood, chief executive, Drinkaware
“Our new website is engaging young people. We are a listening organisation and we are turning listening into something that matters. In spring we will announce our plans to tackle ‘long-term harms’, a group estimated at 8.4m people. As for 2007, we never imagined that the Drinkaware Trust would reach 3.3m people in its first year.”

Official Standpoint

Notably the Drinkaware Industry briefing on December 12 included a hard-hitting talk from Nick Lawrence, programme manager for substance misuse at the Department of Health. “The government thinks something has to be done,” he began on the issue of alcohol-related harm. “It costs the country £20 billion each year,” and “hospital admissions related to alcohol are 180,000 every year – and these are people whose livers have packed up, or who have mental problems or acute or chronic poisoning”.

Acknowledging that “the issue is not alcohol, it is the way in which we drink,” he stated, “the government has to deliver change. We can’t continue with this level of alcohol-related harm.”
“The government can take action itself, legislate or develop partnerships or all three,” he warned. Partnerships with the likes of Drinkaware he admitted were “vital,” but also that they “have to be shown to be delivering concrete results in the short term and real measurable results in the medium term.”

© db January 2008

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