Drink abuse charity hits out at '˜confusing' advice

The chief executive of Scotland's leading charity working to prevent alcohol harm has criticised a campaign that encourages people to have drink-free days.
Alison Douglas, head of Alcohol Focus Scotland, has criticised the drink-free days campaign. Picture: Ian RutherfordAlison Douglas, head of Alcohol Focus Scotland, has criticised the drink-free days campaign. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Alison Douglas, head of Alcohol Focus Scotland, has criticised the drink-free days campaign. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Alison Douglas, from Alcohol Focus Scotland, said recent conflicting health messages around alcohol were confusing the public at a time when medical professionals were urging people not to exceed 14 units a week. Last month a global study published in the Lancet medical journal confirmed previous research showing there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. The researchers admitted moderate drinking may protect against heart disease, but found the risk of cancer and other diseases outweighs these protections.

However, Public Health England has teamed up with industry-funded charity Drinkaware Trust in a multi-million pound UK-wide campaign that encourages drinkers to have two dry days a week. This led to the resignation of a senior adviser at the Westminster Government’s public health agency over its stance on safe drinking advice and ongoing relationship with the drinks industry. Sir Ian Gilmore, the agency’s chief external alcohol adviser, said agency bosses were being duped into a partnership that would hamper efforts to reduce the amount Britain drank. His views are echoed by Douglas and the Scottish Government have been quick to distance themselves from the Drinkaware Trust campaign.

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Douglas said: “In Scotland we have seen up close the alcohol industry’s determination to derail and delay the implementation of life-saving minimum unit pricing legislation. Organisations who put their profits over people’s health should have no part in shaping alcohol policy or in providing health advice.”

Douglas said she believed there was a clear need for “independent and reliable” information and advice on how to manage drinking.

She said: “The PHE/Drinkaware campaign does little to help by focusing on encouraging people to have a couple of drink-free days rather than on the Chief Medical Officer’s main message; do not regularly drink more than 14 units a week. It’s encouraging to see that the Scottish Government is not involved in this campaign and will not partner with industry on its campaigns.”

Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy Monitoring Report showed Scots last year bought enough alcohol for everyone aged over 16 to drink 19.6 units of alcohol every week. Alcohol specific deaths remain high, with 1,120 recorded in 2017.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We were not approached to take part in the campaign and do not provide funding to Drinkaware.”

A spokesperson for Drinkaware said: ““Drinkaware is an independent charity which is not part of and does not speak on behalf of the alcohol industry. Since our inception 11 years ago, Drinkaware has provided evidence led advice, information and support to millions of people concerned about alcohol and its harmful effects.

“The Drink Free Days campaign, launched last week with Public Health England, encourages those drinking in excess of the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines to take more drink free days to help reduce their risk of developing serious health problems. This advice is absolutely consistent with the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (including the CMO for Scotland) guidance, which states, “if you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.”

“Drinkaware’s commitment to helping people make informed choices about alcohol is unswerving and to suggest otherwise is to wholly and wilfully misrepresent the charity and its aims.”