Shaping Public hEalth poliCies To Reduce IneqUalities and harM


Latest updates from SPECTRUM

Tobacco and Alcohol In British Soap Operas

07 July 2020

It is already known that exposure to tobacco and alcohol content in media is a risk factor for smoking and alcohol use in young people. 

Alex Barker and team at the University of Nottingham have published the results of a recent study that reviewed tobacco and alcohol content in soap operas broadcast on UK Television across a sample of 87 episodes of Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Neighbours and Home and Away.

The research, in the Journal of Public Health, showed that whilst tobacco content was rare (occurring in 4% of 1-minute intervals), alcohol content was seen in 24% of intervals across 95% of episodes. This sample of soap episodes delivered 381 million tobacco impressions and 2.1 billion alcohol impressions to the UK population, including 18 million tobacco and 113 million alcohol impressions to children under 16.

The team discovered that were more alcohol and tobacco content contained within UK soaps compared to Australian soaps. Of particular concern is the use of genuine brands being displayed alongside fictional brands - which calls in to question why genuine brands are used in the first place.


Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland's Alcohol Strategy (MESAS)

11th June 2020

SPECTRUM play a key contribution to evaluating minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland.

In 2010, Public Health Scotland (then NHS Health Scotland) set up a programme to evaluate Scotland’s alcohol strategy, including minimum unit pricing.  Since then the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland's Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) team have delivered a number of reports including annual reports and infographics.

On May 1st 2018 Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce a strength-based minimum price for all alcohol products sold through licensed premises as part of an ambitious and comprehensive strategy to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed and the associated health and social harms. 

On May 1st 2020, MESAS published the first analyses of off-trade alcohol sales in the full year following implementation of MUP.  The report summarises the volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland before and after MUP implementation, the percentage change in per alcohol sales over time and the change in average price per unit of alcohol sold.  England and Wales were used as comparators because they had not implemented MUP in this period. A briefing describing the study and results can be found here

In May 2020, the MESAS team published their latest study on the impact of minimum unit pricing on protecting children and young people from parental or carer harmful alcohol use.  The study team organised eight focus groups and one interview between February and May 2019, with practitioners who work with families (already known to services) who were affected by harmful alcohol use.   The study showed that the complexity of the lives of the families involved meant that MUP was only one of a range of factors which shape the experience of children and young people.  Read the briefing for more information on the findings.

Finally, the full protocol for the evaluation of MUP was also published in June 2020 in The International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health as part of a special issue on alcohol policy and public health.

Further evidence on the impact of MUP on alcohol sales and price will follow in late-2020 and mid-2022. 


What next for tobacco control in Scotland?

29 May 2020

The Centre for Research on Environment Society and Health (CRESH) is a virtual centre joining scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland.  Their research is focused on exploring how physical and social environments can influence population health, for better and for worse.  Following up on their paper published in March 2020 (see below), which found that the purchase price of tobacco is lower in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods, largely because of the higher sales of the cheapest brands in these areas, Professor Niamh Shortt recently published a blog on the CRESH page querying what the next steps might be for tobacco control in Scotland. 

Cigarette smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable ill-health, hospitalisations and deaths in Scotland. Approximately 19% of adults in Scotland smoke, this rises to 32% in the most deprived fifth of neighbourhoods and falls to 9% in the most affluent neighbourhoods. As Scotland moves towards a ‘Tobacco Endgame’ the Scottish Government have a target to reduce smoking prevalence to less than 5% by 2034. A recent review of smoking projections by CRUK however suggests that Scotland may miss this target by 16 years in the poorest neighbourhoods. Professor Shortt notes that it is important that we continue to explore all potential determinants of smoking, particularly those that drive smoking in our most deprived communities.

To find out more about what this research means and what can we take from it, read the full blog here.


The positive effects of COVID-19 and the social determinants of health: all in it together?

11 May 2020

SPECTRUM members Sarah Hill, Sharon Friel and Jeff Collin have highlighted increasing concerns about the unequal impacts of both the COVID-19 pandemic and policies to address it. In responding to a recent article  in the British Medical Journal by Bryn Nelson, they note the transformative potential for public health of current changes in the role of the state. They outline how COVID response strategies need to take account of their unequal impacts, including in transitioning out of lockdown.  Read their call for the scale of the mobilisation to counter the pandemic to be matched by a sustained commitment to reducing social, economic and environmental inequalities. 


Help map unhealthy commodity industries' responses to COVID-19

06 May 2020

Today, along with the NCD Alliance (NCDA) we have launched a tool to collect examples of activities undertaken or presented by businesses as a response to the COVID-19 crisis – including corporate social responsibility initiatives, philanthropy, new marketing campaigns, and engagement in policy debates.  The information collected will form part of a database that will be used to map industries’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic across countries and across industries, develop publications and to inform policy debates in the coming months nationally and globally. 
We would love your help! We invite you join us gathering examples by keeping an eye out for industry actions, activities, communications and behaviours that strike you as interesting, curious and/or concerning, and when you see them, visit:
The anonymous tool should take less than 5-10 minutes to fill in, it's completely voluntary, you can stop any time and you can also return to the survey to make additional submissions (by completing the survey again, with new information). The information collected will be kept securely and will not be used in a way that will allow contributors to be identified. 
To find out more visit the NCD Alliance for more information.


UCL launch new study into health behaviours

05 May 2020

A new study conducted by researchers from the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, UCL Department of Behavioural Science and Health and UCL Centre for Behaviour Change has launched today.  This major new study is led by Lion Shahab, a member of the SPECTRUM Consortium and Dr Aleksandra Herbec along with collaborators Prof. Jamie Brown, Dr Olga Perski and Dr Phillippa Lally.

The team want to understand physical activity and diet, as well as the use and changes to the use of tobacco (e.g. cigarettes), nicotine (e.g. e-cigarettes) and alcohol during the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19). They also want to understand how they could create or provide support that may help people to make changes to their behaviours and therefore their health.

The study involves completing a 20-minute online survey now and then a shorter 10-minute online survey after 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 12 months.

Find more information about this study here or on our COVID-19 page.

To start the survey, please click here.


Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh: COVID-19 webinars - COVID-19 and Tobacco

05 May 2020

The Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh have launched a weekly COVID-19 webinar series targeted at members of the academic community in the UK and beyond, the public health community and key decision-makers from a range of sectors.  Organised by Professor Aziz Sheikh, Director of the Usher Institute and Professor Linda Bauld, Director of the SPECTRUM Consortium and Bruce and John Usher Chair of Public Health at the Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh, these webinars are hosted via Zoom and live streamed via YouTube.  

The next webinar will take place on May 21st at 10am and is produced in collaboration with SPECTRUM, the Tobacco Control Capacity Programme (TCCP), Addressing Smokeless Tobacco and building Research Capacity in South Asia (ASTRA) and Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP).  

Speaker Affiliation Title 
Lion Shahab University College London (SPECTRUM Member) The association between Covid-19 and smoking
Kamran Siddiqi University of York Cessation and Covid-19
Monika Arora Public Health Foundation of India Need to strengthen tobacco control policies in the time of Covid-19 and LMIC perspective
 Tom Hird University of Bath Tobacco industry influence extending via Covid19

To register to attend the webinar, click here


Covid-19 & Tobacco Study Launched

04 May 2020

A new study involving members of the SPECTRUM Consortium has been launched at the University of Edinburgh. The Covid-19 and Tobacco Project: Generating evidence to support policy and practice to address tobacco use during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic is a two-and-a-half-month research project funded through an internal call for proposals from the University of Edinburgh, utilizing funding from the Scottish Funding Council, as part of their Global Challenges Research Fund.  

The project builds on an existing GCRF GROW funded programme, the Tobacco Control Capacity Programme (TCCP). TCCP is a consortium of 15 partners, nine of which are in Africa and Asia. It also has strong linkages to the SPECTRUM consortium, a UK Prevention Research Partnership funded programme. 

Further details are available via the University of Edinburgh or via the COVID-19 pages of this website


Minimum tobacco pricing could significantly improve the health of people living in Scotland’s most economically disadvantaged areas.

20 March 2020

Professors Niamh Shortt and Jamie Pearce based at the Centre for Research on Environment, Society & Health, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with colleagues from NHS Health Scotland (a SPECTRUM partner), University of East Anglia and the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, investigated how tobacco price varied across 270 Scottish convenience stores. 

Using data collected by another SPECTRUM partner, The Retail Data Partnership, the team analysed more than 120,000 purchases within those stores during one week in April 2018 and compared retail price with neighbourhood income deprivation and whether the shop was in a rural or urban setting.  The study is the first to report on neighbourhood variation in all tobacco sales, not just the most popular or cheapest brands.

The team discovered that the cost of tobacco varied markedly across neighbourhoods with the average purchase price found to be 50p less for a pack of 20 cigarettes, and 34p less for "roll your own" tobacco, in areas with highest income deprivation, compared with the most affluent neighbourhoods. 

As a result, the research suggests clearly that increasing the price of the cheapest products will support people in the most disadvantaged areas the most and potentially lead to the greatest health gains by preventing uptake and helping people to quit.  

The research was funded by NHS Health Scotland and was published yesterday in Tobacco Control