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Ian Gilmore quits as government alcohol adviser in opposition to industry deal

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3882 (Published 11 September 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3882
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

A senior adviser to the UK government on alcohol policy has quit after voicing concern at Public Health England’s relations with the industry.

Ian Gilmore has stepped down from his role advising PHE after the agency entered into a partnership with the drinks industry that he argued would undermine efforts to protect public health.1

In a letter to the Times Gilmore and John Britton, who advises PHE on tobacco policy, criticised the agency’s decision to partner with Drinkaware, an alcohol education charity that receives funding from the industry, for a new campaign encouraging middle aged people to have more alcohol free days. They said that the campaign’s launch “demonstrates a failure at senior level in Public Health England to learn the lessons from the use by the tobacco and alcohol industries of voluntary agreements and other partnerships with health bodies to undermine, water down or otherwise neutralise policies to reduce consumption.”

Britton said that he would also resign unless PHE ended the partnership.

In a separate statement issued in his capacity as chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, Gilmore said he thought that PHE was making “a serious mistake” in partnering with the alcohol industry. “We strongly believe that the alcohol industry should not have a role in providing health information to the general public. The evidence tells us their campaigns are more likely to improve the reputation of global alcohol corporations than improve the health of the nation,” he said.

But Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, defended its decision to partner with the industry. In a statement he said, “We think our advice on drink free days is easily understandable, pragmatic, and sensible.

“PHE is steadfast in its ambition to reduce the harms that drinking too much alcohol can cause and we will work together with any partner that speaks to the evidence and shares the same commitment.”

In a separate blog post outlining the aims of the campaign Selbie argued that the new partnership with Drinkaware was “the first step in reframing our relationship with the alcohol industry” in a similar way to persuading the food industry to reduce salt and sugar in foods.2

“Some people will disagree with PHE working with Drinkaware as they are partly funded by the alcohol industry but factually they are governed independently and we will be fiercely vigilant on this,” Selbie wrote.

Leigh Lewis, Drinkaware’s chair of trustees, said, “Drinkaware is an independent charity which is not part of and does not speak on behalf of the alcohol industry.

“It is saddening to see that widely refuted false allegations about our independence are being used to undermine serious and genuine attempts to help people moderate their drinking and improve knowledge about the long term health risks.”

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