Workshop: Smoking and Drinking

 UKCTAS Institute of Alcohol Studies NIHR small SPHR smallWorkshop to develop a common policy modelling framework for policies that target smoking and alcohol use

8th September 2015

Duncan Gillespie and Jenny Hatchard

In the bustle of central London, close to St James’s Park, lies the Institute of Alcohol Studies. Down in the Institute’s library, a group of academics and policymakers recently got together for a workshop to discuss how public health policies for tobacco and alcohol work in practice.

The problem is that the UK’s recent recession and ongoing budget cuts are pushing local governments in particular to combine tobacco and alcohol policy as they seek the greatest gains for their dwindling budgets. This means that assessing the potential monetary and wider societal gains that come from public health policies is more important than ever. A big effort is now needed to understand how to get the most from policies across a range of our most harmful behaviours. Tobacco and alcohol are high on the list.

Tobacco kills around 100,000 people in the UK every year, and alcohol up to 15,000and each imposes significant costs on the NHS – £2.7bn for alcohol and £2bn for tobacco every year.

The workshop was organised by Drs Duncan Gillespie (University of Sheffield) and Jenny Hatchard (University of Bath) – early career researchers in the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies. They are part of a research team who are developing a model for policy makers, to provide comparable predictions of the effects of different tobacco and alcohol policies. By engaging stakeholders during the model development process, the aim is that the eventual model will be credible, and will reflect the current state of knowledge on how policies arrive at their effects on behaviour.

The workshop therefore focused on discussing similarities and differences in the mechanisms by which public health policies affect smoking and drinking in different parts of society. It also asked how policy effects on smoking and drinking might interact.

The group of 25 participants raised questions such as:

‘How do you change your drinking behaviour if you quit smoking?’

‘Do you drink more or less alcohol when you can’t smoke in the pub?’

‘What do you choose to spend your money on when taxes on tobacco and alcohol products change their affordability?’

There was a lot of vibrant and detailed discussion as participants constructed diagrams of how they saw the different policies affecting smoking and drinking. Everyone at the workshop took notes as they went. The team are currently analysing these data in preparation for publication and for using the outcomes as the foundations for a new health-economic model.

We want to send a big thank you to everyone who participated and to the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, the NIHR School for Public Health Research, and the Institute of Alcohol Studies for funding this initiative.


Participants formed five groups to discuss the policy themes:

  • Promotion: social marketing e.g. mass media public information campaigns
  • Person: Measures to help individuals reduce use
  • Prescriptive: Regulation of industry advertising, marketing and sales
  • Price: Fiscal policies including tax, minimum unit pricing, industry levies, economic incentives
  • Place: Restrictions on sales and consumption

Discussions focused around constructing a diagram on flipchart paper (see photo for the diagram produced for the “Prescriptive” policy theme). After lunch, each group rotated around the other policy themes, giving feedback and extending the discussion.