15 October 2018
Drinkaware: unequivocally committed to reducing alcohol harm
In September, 2018, Drinkaware, jointly with Public Health England (PHE), announced the launch of a campaign to promote the benefits of drink-free days especially to people drinking in excess of the Chief Medical Officers' low-risk drinking guidelines.
The campaign was welcomed by many, but a wave of condemnation followed from parts of the public health academic community. Over the intervening weeks, Drinkaware has been portrayed as the lapdog of a duplicitous industry seeking to manipulate public opinion, as an organisation distorting the facts about alcohol harms, as an unprincipled purveyor of dubious information, and, when all else has failed, as an entity using tactics akin to the tobacco companies of previous decades. We have consistently and robustly refuted these allegations wherever they have appeared and will continue doing so.
To some, nothing I say as Drinkaware's Chair of Trustees is going to change this narrative. But those who value evidence-based research might be interested in knowing a bit more about what Drinkaware really is.
The Drinkaware Trust was set up in 2007 by the then Labour Government. Our governing documents set out Drinkaware's role as a provider of impartial information and advice; we were not established as an advocacy group, and today we remain solely focused on improving the attitudes, knowledge, and behaviour of individuals whose drinking places them at risk.
We operate with a dedicated staff of just 25 people. We are an independent educational charity governed by a Board of Trustees appointed solely on the basis of their ability to support the aims of the charity and who do so on an entirely pro bono basis. Everything on our website and our tools and products is subject to the scrutiny of an independent Medical Advisory Panel comprising some of the UK's foremost experts in their fields.
Our funding does come overwhelmingly from the industry and has done so since the Trust's inception. That is not something we hide in any way. Our 2017 Annual Report lists our 120 industry donors (now 125, including household names in the industry, and some less well known names, including sporting bodies, restaurant groups, travel companies and others).
I understand that for some people, that is in and of itself objectionable. I do not share that view, but I understand it. What, however, I fail to understand is the leap from that view to the conclusion that what we do is dictated by our funders. This grotesque distortion has no basis whatsoever in fact. It is also an insult to our staff who come to work each day determined to do their very best to help reduce the harms from alcohol.
Since the campaign launched on Sept 10, 2018, nearly 1 million people have visited the Drinkaware website (more than one third more than the corresponding period a year ago), of which 160 000 people have accessed our Drink Free Days campaign page, and more than 28 000 people have downloaded the Drinkaware App or PHE's Drink Free Days App designed to reinforce the campaign's key messages.
We cannot, of course, know yet what effect the campaign will have on their drinking. Both we and PHE are committed to carrying out full evaluations of the campaign. But it defies logic to believe that this campaign will have any other effect than helping thousands of people to cut back on their drinking.
I, my fellow trustees, the members of our Medical Advisory Panel, and, above all, our staff remain immensely proud of what we do. We are proud of having launched this ground-breaking campaign with PHE, and we are proud of our work in the past decade to reduce the very substantial harms caused by alcohol. I hope that at least some of The Lancet's readers will be willing to join us in that pride.
Sir Leigh Lewis
Chair of the Drinkaware Trust
View the letter on The Lancet