The Perils of Partnership: Interactions Between Public Health England, Drinkaware, and the Portman Group Surrounding the Drink Free Days Campaign

Document Type : Original Article


1 Global Health Policy Unit, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

2 Department of Health Services Research and Policy, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

3 Department of Public Health, Environments and Society, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

4 UK PRP SPECTRUM Consortium, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK


There is growing evidence that the alcohol industry seeks to obstruct public health policies that might affect future alcohol sales. In parallel, the alcohol industry funds organisations that engage in “responsible drinking” campaigns. Evidence is growing that the content and delivery of such campaigns serves industry, rather than public health interests, yet these organizations continue to be the subject of partnerships with government health departments. This study aimed to examine the nature and potential impacts of such partnerships by analysing the practices of the alcohol industry-funded charity Drinkaware during the establishment of the Drink Free Days campaign.
A case study based on an inductive analysis of documents revealed by freedom of information (FoI) request regarding communications between Drinkaware, Public Health England (PHE), and the Portman Group, in the years running up to, and during, the Drink Free Days campaign, a partnership between alcohol industry-funded charity Drinkware, and PHE.
This study reveals a range of less visible, system-level effects of such partnerships for government departments and civil society. The tensions observed, as exhibited by discrepancies between internal and external communications, the emphasis on managing and mitigating the perception of negative consequences, and the links to wider alcohol industry initiatives and bodies, suggest the need for wider considerations of organizational conflicts of interest, and of possible indirect, harmful consequences to policy-making. These include the marginalization of other civil society voices, the displacing of more effective policy options, and strategic alignment with other industry lobbying activities.
The findings have implications for how public health practitioners and health organisations might better weigh the potential trade-offs of partnership in the context of health promotion campaigns. 


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