North East councils run £1.3m alcohol and tobacco 'de-normalisation' campaign

PR is at the heart of a new push to reduce levels of smoking and drinking in North East England, with some £1.3m being spent this year on tobacco control and alcohol "de-normalisation".

Alcohol and tobacco campaigns in the North East will run until 2020
Alcohol and tobacco campaigns in the North East will run until 2020

It is the start of a new bid to drive down alcohol consumption and encourage smokers to kick the habit, funded by 11 local authorities in the North East.

Existing government-funded programmes Fresh and Balance, which work to reduce rates of drinking and smoking respectively, will drive the new project, now underway and scheduled to run until 2020.

At 19.9 per cent, the smoking rate in the North East is higher than any other region in England, and almost one in three people drink at harmful levels – the highest figure for any English region.

A contract notice for the regional programme states: "The aim is to provide a specialised programme and range of skills to support the effective delivery of a multi-component, evidence-based, tobacco control and alcohol de-normalisation programme across the whole North East region. This contract is funded regionally by 11 of the North East local authorities."

Warnings of the dangers of drinking and smoking, such as cancer and heart disease, will be communicated through advertising and marketing campaigns, including TV advertising, supported by media relations and wider PR activity.

The project will seek to provide a counter-narrative to the promotion of alcohol and tobacco, and advise people on how to stop smoking and drink less.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, told PR Week: "Alcohol and tobacco are leading causes of preventable illness and mortality in the country and historically the North East has had the worst rates of smoking and the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions.

"Together they are costing the North East well over £1bn a year in health costs, social care, costs to employers and policing."

He added: "While campaigns and PR are only one part of this contract, these are central to our work, helping us to raise awareness of the health risks among both adults and young people, and the benefits of healthier lifestyles."

Shevills said there was a value in PR-based campaigns over and above advertising.

He said: "Paid-for campaigns that we have implemented have been evaluated and rolled out in other parts of the country, but there is strong evidence that PR and news also creates real discussion points in communities and families, adding deeper levels of engagement to paid-for campaigns by involving real people's stories and the experiences of doctors who see these diseases on a daily basis.

"More recently, we are finding the public very willing to engage on these messages around social media."

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