Drinkaware Trust

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Alcohol badge.jpg This article is part of the Spinwatch public health oriented Alcohol Portal project.

Formerly the Portman Group's charitable division, the new Drinkaware Trust (Drinkaware) was established in January 2007 as part of the ongoing alcohol harm reduction strategy in England. It is governed by 13 independent Trustees with backgrounds ranging from alcohol experts from the health, education and voluntary sectors and from within the drinks industry.

Drinkaware's mission is to construct and implement an alcohol harm reduction programme and to promote responsible drinking. The alcohol industry pledged £12 million to the charity over three years and said it would put its significant weight into promoting the charity’s consumer information website www.drinkaware.co.uk in advertising, at point of sale and on product labels.[1]


Expectations for the trust were set out in a memorandum of understanding between The Portman Group, the Department of Health, the Home Office, Scottish Executive, Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Office. The following details are from the memorandum: [2]

The existing Trust (being the charitable arm of The Portman Group) is seen by both Government and industry as an appropriate starting point for developing a new and independent fund, as set out in the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England. Noting that the "Drinkaware" brand has already begun to establish itself in the public's consciousness, it is essential that this be retained as the consumer-facing brand of the Trust.
The new Trust will be an independent body operating across the UK, which will require the support of a wide range of industry and non-industry stakeholders to be successful. As part of ensuring the stakeholder buy-in to the new Trust, the new Board of Trustees could consider assigning a new name. The trust will be governed by a Board of thirteen Trustees, comprised as follows: five non-Industry Trustees from health, education, youth and community work law or academia with an interest in alcohol; five industry trustees, two members with no current professional interests who could contribute fundraising or marketing experience from other sectors; and one independent chair with a proven track record in CSR and in chairing, launching and/or growing a similar scale business and/or charitable organisation in another sector. None of the trustees would REPRESENT any particular body or group - each would have obligations to represent only the interests of the Trust itself.
Relevant Government Departments will send observers to the meetings of the Board of Trustees, which will include the Devolved Administrations, but the Government has no formal role in the governance of the Trust. The new Trustees will recruit a new Chief Executive. There will be no shared administrative or staffing functions with The Portman Group. The new Trustees will secure an early separation from shared location with the Portman Group - the permanent Chief Executive will present options for separation within six months of appointment.
The member companies of The Portman Group (TPG) agree that they will provide core funding to the Trust at the levels specified in the projected budgets, and that TPG will work to secure further investment in the Trust from the wider industry. The aim is to secure an annual budget of at least £5m by Year 3, starting with £3m in Year 1, rising to £4m in Year 2. The aim in the first three years is for Trust to aspire to attract funding from as broad a base of support as possible.
In line with the partnership approach, Government (including the devolved administrations) will consider 'in-kind' technical support to the Trust. Following normal procurement protocols, the new Trust will be free to tender in open competition on the same basis as other organisations for relevant Government departmental contracts to deliver public education campaigns on alcohol issues.


Critics have claimed that the trust's funding is inadequate to tackle the growing rates of alcohol related harm in the UK. The aim of securing £5 million in three years falls short of Alcohol Concern's belief that £20 million a year would be needed for the trust to fulfil its responsibilities. Although this too probably falls short when considering that marketing by the drinks industry in 2004 was between £600m and £800m with estimates that of this total, £200-250m was spent on advertising. Further criticisms emphasise its reliance on industry for funding and argue an independent body would be a more appropriate mechanism for change. Questions over who should serve on the board of trustees, and how independent trustees can be when receiving alcohol industry money are central to the debate. [3]

Should the alcohol industry have responsibility for alcohol education?

The Drinkaware Trust describes itself as an “independent charity” that ‘promotes responsible drinking and attempts to ‘reduce alcohol misuse and minimise alcohol-related harm’. [4] The trust was designed to provide a platform for alcohol education that was independent from the alcohol industry. Yet today the trust is based within the headquarters of The Portman Group, the body that represents big alcohol’s interests in the UK. [5] This raises questions over its independence, and the value of its messages on alcohol. The Trust in its current form was established in late 2006 as part of the 2004 Alcohol Strategy for England. [6] The strategy advocated establishing a new independent national fund to support the government’s commitment to a reduction in alcohol harm. The Portman Group, was against this and keen to run the fund itself. [7] Negotiations between the industry and the government resulted in the compromise that the Portman Group’s charitable activities, which since 2004 had been conducted through their Drinkaware website, would be rebranded and given greater independence. The compromise was sealed in a memorandum of understanding between The Portman Group, the Department of Health, the Home Office, and the devolved administrations. [8]

The trust is funded entirely by the alcohol industry (including several supermarkets). The Alcohol industry pledged an annual budget of at least £5m by the trust’s third year. However, by their own account, between 2007 and 2009 the industry had only contributed £2,690,176. [9] The funding shortfall is significant, especially when we compare it to the £800 million pounds spent annually in the UK on marketing and advertising alcohol, [10] in a market worth around £33.7 billion in 2007. [11]

In addition to alcohol industry executives, in June 2009 the trust appointed Professor Paul Wallace as medical adviser (Drinkaware). Wallace is Professor of Primary Care at University College London, and a general medical practitioner. Nevertheless, the Drinkaware website presents a view of alcohol and its abuse consistent with the alcohol industry’s philosophy.

The Drinkaware Trust focuses its prevention work on educational activities, an approach found consistently to be the least effective lever in controlling alcohol consumption and subsequent harm, [12] and the means favoured by the alcohol industry to tackle the problem. This is opposed to adopting an effective alcohol strategy as advocated by the public health community and, importantly, a strategy that is supported by the evidence base. Reducing harmful levels of alcohol consumption is an important public health goal. Effective alcohol control policies are primarily centred on the price of alcohol, restricting marketing and promotions and restricting the availability of alcohol (e.g. hours of sale and number of licensed outlets). [13] Furthermore, by portraying alcohol consumption as the norm [14] and by advising how to use alcohol safely the Trust marginalises the concept of abstinence, and overstates the cultural importance of alcohol. It also creates the impression that the health risks associated with alcohol can easily be controlled. The trust shares the view of the alcohol industry that the majority of people drink responsibly [15] – despite alarming increases in rates of alcohol-related harm and figures that show alcohol related harm is evident and escalating across society. [16] [17] [18] A reduction in the amount of alcohol we consume is required this is not in the interests of Drinkaware’s funders.

In Scotland, for example, figures from Nielson data show that if the Scottish population were to consume alcohol within recommended guidelines there would be a reduction in 12 million litres of pure alcohol sold. This represents around a quarter of alcohol sales in Scotland worth around £900 million to the alcohol industry.[19] There is a serious economic consequence for the alcohol industry if consumers begin to consume alcohol within the recommended limits. Is it therefore appropriate for the alcohol industry to be responsible for the nation’s alcohol education?

Drinkaware’s campaign messages are perhaps unsurprisingly weak, providing a sanitised version of alcohol-related harm. Educational campaigns have been found to be the least effective means of reducing alcohol related harm [20] Industry-funded campaigns have been found to be the least effective of all. When tobacco conglomerate Philip Morris designed and funded television campaigns in America to discourage youths from using tobacco, research found that their efforts may have actually encouraged children to smoke. [21] [22] Independently funded campaigns, in contrast, were found to be more effective. [23][24]

Commenting on a 2009 Drinkaware campaign ‘Why let good times go bad?’ which aims to target binge drinkers aged 18-24, Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, stated: ‘This new initiative appears to be yet another example of the drinks industry trying desperately to avoid mandatory legislation to pass on health information to consumers.’ [25] This form of activity provides an opportunity for the industry to bolster its reputation as a legitimate source of health information and presents further opportunities for the alcohol industry to work in partnership with government.

Partnership working in other words promotes the erosion of barriers between government and the private sectors and makes the pursuit of social objectives harder because of the difficulty of taking decision based on grounds of public health, social need or other social priorities.

Projects & Partners

The Drinkaware Trust works with the Scottish Executive in the Partnership Agreement: Scottish Executive and the Alcohol Industry. This partnership involves representatives of the alcohol industry working with the Scottish Executive with the aim of reducing alcohol misuse and related consequences.





Non-Industry Lay Trustees

Former Trustees


The Drinkaware Trust is supported by voluntary donations from across the alcohol drinks industry, including producers, pub companies and retailers. The aim is to secure an annual budget of at least £5 million within 3 years, from as broad a base of support as possible.


  1. The Drinkaware trust,Background and Origins Last accessed January 20th 2007
  2. Scottish Government Publications October 2006 Drinkaware Memorandum of Understanding Last accessed November 23rd 2007
  3. Marketing Week, January 12, 2006,Alcohol - DRINK AWARE; A glass half full, accessed via Nexis UK, 23 May 2008
  4. Drinkaware Trust, About Us accessed 17th January 2011
  5. Harkins, C. (2010) ‘The Portman Group’. British Medical Journal. January 2010, accessed 20th January 2010
  6. Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit (2004) Harm reduction strategy for England Cabinet Office 2004, accessed 22nd July 2009
  7. Baggott, B. (2006) ‘Alcohol strategy and the drinks industry: a partnership for prevention?’. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, accessed April 22nd 2009
  8. Scottish Government (2006) Memorandum of Understanding. Scottish Government Publications 26th October 2006, accessed 19th November 2007
  9. Drinkaware Trust, ‘Donations to date’ 2007-2009 accessed 15th February 2010
  10. Hastings, G. Et al.(2009) ‘Under the Influence: The damaging effects of alcohol marketing on young people’. British Medical Journal, accessed 20th January 2010
  11. Nielsen Information (2008). ‘Range of data on alcohol sales by volume, liquor category, trade sector, per capita, retail sales value, and the price of alcohol per unit / per litre’ Scottish Government June 17th 2008, accessed 15th August 2009
  12. Babor, T., Caetano, R., Casswell, S. et al. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity–Research and Public Policy. 2003 Oxford University Press
  13. Babor, T., Caetano, R., Casswell, S. et al. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity–Research and Public Policy. 2003 Oxford University Press
  14. Hastings, G. Et al.(2009) ‘Under the Influence: The damaging effects of alcohol marketing on young people’, British Medical Journal, accessed 20th January 2010
  15. Drinkaware, Alcohol in the UK accessed 20th January 2011
  16. Academy of Medical Sciences, Calling Time: The Nation's Drinking as a Major Health Issue, Academy of Medical Sciences, 2004 London, accessed 20th January 2011
  17. School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield Model-based appraisal of alcohol minimum pricing and off-licensed trade discount bans in Scotland: a Scottish adaptation of the Sheffield alcohol policy Scottish Government , accessed 10th January 2011
  18. Donaldson L.[www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_096231.pdf 150 years of the annual report of the chief medical officer: on the state of public health 2008], Department of Health 2008, accessed 10th January 2011
  19. Nielson Information, Range of data on alcohol sales by volume, liquor category, trade sector, per capita, retail sales value, and the price of alcohol per unit / per litre Scottish Government Publications 17th June 2008, accessed 10th January 2011
  20. Babor, T. & Casswell, S. et al. (2003) Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity–Research and Public Policy. Oxford University Press, Oxford
  21. Sebrie, E.M., and S.A. Glantz. 2007. ‘Attempts to Undermine TobaccoControl: Tobacco Industry “Youth Smoking Prevention” Programs To Undermine Meaningful Tobacco Control in Latin America’. American Journal of Public Health 97:1357–67.
  22. Wakefield, M. Et.al. (2006) ‘Effect of Televised, Tobacco Company–Funded Smoking Prevention Advertising on Youth Smoking-Related Beliefs, Intentions, and Behavior’. American Journal of Public Health 96:2154–60
  23. Hyland, A.et.al. (2006) ‘Anti-Tobacco Television Advertising and Indicators of Smoking Cessation in Adults: A Cohort Study’. Health Education Research 21:348–54. accessed June 30th 2009
  24. Warner, K.E. (2006) ‘Tobacco Policy Research: Insights and Contributions to Public Health Policy’. In Tobacco Control Policy, edited by K.E. Warner, pp. 3–86, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  25. BBC News, Industry Drive to Curb Drinking 15th July 2009, accessed 10th January 2010
  26. The Publican Drinkaware Trust appoints new chief executive accessed 1st May 2009
  27. FAME Company Report The Drinkaware Trust Accessed April 22nd 2007
  28. The Drinkaware Trust Web Site Board of Trustees Accessed 22nd April 2007
  29. WIne & Spirit Trade Association Website 25th Jan 2008 Drinkaware Trust announces new Chair and Trustees accessed 5th September 2008