Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Head To Head

Could campaigns like Dry January do more harm than good?

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 13 January 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i143

Rapid Response:

Re: Could campaigns like Dry January do more harm than good?

Thank you to all those who took the time to read (or listen to the podcast) the recent head to head (1), and particularly those who responded to the piece by submitting a rapid response. The aim of the piece was to debate the impact of Dry January and other similar campaigns which communicate messages about substances such as alcohol to a broad audience.

Whether public health messages about alcohol are generated by Government or third sector organisations such as Alcohol Concern, it is important that they are independently evaluated. Richard O. de Visser & Jackie Ballard provide some information about the evaluations to date, including there limitations. Clearly much more is needed to understand in particular any unintended consequences of these campaigns.

When these campaigns are competing to be heard above the publicity and marketing efforts of the alcohol industry they can struggle to make an impact. The alcohol industry has been sophisticated in the way it markets its products to different groups of the population (2). In contrast public health messages are often broad or binary. I hope we can learn from the industry and in future employ some of the methods they use. Unfortunately the public health budget is to be substantially reduced (3), so set against the marketing budget of the industry it won't be a fair fight.

Lastly congratulations to Ian Gilmore who according to the poll won the debate ! I was tempted to vote but didn't as I'm still unsure....

1. Hamilton, I. Gilmore,I. (2016) Could campaigns like Dry January do more harm than good ? BMJ;352,:i143.
2.. Problem drinkers account for most of alcohol industry's sales , figures reveal. The Guardian -
3. Cuts to public health spending: The falsest of false economies. Kings Fund -

Competing interests: No competing interests

25 January 2016
Ian Hamilton
University of York
Health Sciences, York