magazine for alumni and friends of Massey University.
Issue 14, April 2002
Professor Sally Casswell and SHORE, the Centre for Social and
Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation
Being a country’s pre-eminent authority on the sensitive
area of drug and alcohol use carries its own responsibilities.
It may also affect the company you keep.
When the Auckland-based SHORE centre, led by Professor Sally
Casswell, was opened in November last year, the Prime Minister
and a who’s who of decision-makers in the public health
sector turned up to endorse the initiative. Just a few months
later, the centre hosted Health Minister, Annette King, who
announced a research partnership between SHORE and the Ministry
of Health’s Public Health Intelligence Group, “ aimed
at improving the health of New Zealanders”. The first
major project will be a national population survey: more
than 8000 people will be surveyed on drug use, both legal
providing an insight into who is most at risk of developing
consequent conditions or diseases.
Casswell has been eminent in her field since the age of 21,
as a postgraduate student at the University of Otago. Born
and raised in England, she travelled by ship to New Zealand
at the urging of an early mentor, psychologist Dr Jim Hodge.
At Otago she chose the effects of cannabis for her thesis
and acquired the first ‘licence’ to legally administer
cannabis in New Zealand. “I had a freezer full. The
aim was to analyse the cognitive effects of the drug on volunteers,
often selected according to their physical size.”
Naturally she was subject to intense media interest. “Yes,
I achieved a relatively high profile. That has proved to be
useful.” Journalists quickly recognised
her ability to demystify the complexities of drug and alcohol
research. Casswell, for her part, regards sharing her knowledge
and research results with the public as part of her job. “Not
least because they have often contributed to the research
and, if the research influences policy, then they may stand
For her PhD, this time at the University of Auckland, she
shifted her attention to alcohol use. The move was timely.
known about how New Zealanders used alcohol, and change was
in the wind – the Alcohol and Liquor Advisory Council
would be formed in 1976. Research projects were proposed, most
to be funded by the Medical (now Health) Research Council.
The University of Auckland, with Sally Casswell, won key contracts
and set up an Alcohol Research Unit. Then in 2002 came the
transfer to Massey University and the creation of the centre
for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation . SHORE
has more than 20 social science researchers on its staff and
works in partnership with Mäori research group Te Ropu
Casswell is an advocate of what she terms ‘multi methods’. “You
never stick to one approach. You take an issue, which may
be an important problem for New Zealand, and apply as many
methods as necessary to solve it.”
She sees how society handles the question of access to alcohol
as symptomatic of wider social, political and ideological
example, when New Zealand moved to neo-liberalism in the
1990s, laws on alcohol were also liberalised including the
of the Sale of Liquor Act. Debate shifted, deregulation was
discussed, then there was wine in supermarkets, the lifting
of restrictions on television and radio advertising.”
What drives her? Is it the desire to make a difference, to
change minds and policy and improve outcomes? Or is it the
research itself, the lure of discoveries waiting to be made. “I
ask myself that, too. On the one hand, there is nothing quite
like the arrival of a new set of statistics with new data to
analyse. It’s a fresh pleasure and the tricky bits are
great fun. But I couldn’t imagine doing it, for example,
to sell a product. It wouldn’t fit what I see as my
purpose in life, to contribute to the community.”
SHORE and Te Ropu Whariki maintain a well trained (and appropriately
paid, says Casswell) field team of multi-lingual survey interviewers
who operate a computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI)
laboratory. The system allows high-quality social and health
survey data to be collected from a range of population groups.
A current project is a telephone survey, in four Pacific languages,
of Pacific Island drinking patterns.
Casswell particularly values SHORE’s partnership with
Te Ropu Whariki. Helen Moewaka Barnes says it is important
to ensure you are accountable, that the people you have worked
with are among the first to learn the results. Casswell adds
that she has learnt much from Barnes’s group about ensuring
that research on delicate social issues is rigorous but also
respectful of people. ”We know that Mäori, for example,
have sometimes felt ‘over-researched’.”
Casswell is also Chair of the World Health Organisation Alcohol
Policy Strategy Advisory Committee, and SHORE researchers
have managed WHO projects. In Geneva, Casswell recently met
his request) “a representative of the largest alcohol
producer in the world, to discuss some WHO concerns. These
really are real world issues.” (However, she adds that
the Asia-Pacific region is becoming the world’s biggest
and most lucrative market for alcohol).
At home, Casswell has her own concerns, as the mother of
a teenager. Which drug would she least like to see him using? “Cigarettes.” And
the obvious question, impossible not to ask: Does she drink?
Yes, most nights, around two glasses of wine. That’s
SHORE, the Centre for Social
and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation, is dedicated
to relevant policy and community
and evaluation. The centre is committed to the Treaty of
Waitangi as the framework for achieving social and health
works closely with Te Ropu Whariki, a M¯aori research
group directed by Helen Moewaka Barnes.
Between them, the two teams are expert in alcohol and other
drugs, M¯aori health, the effects of location on health,
M¯aori identity, youth mental health, and nutrition and
body image. Their methodological expertise includes the design
and implementation of social survey research, programme evaluation,
community action research, kaupapa M¯aori research and
the use of a qualitative methodologies including discourse
Wayne Mowat: Massey University in Auckland is embarking on
a three-year study of the effects of alcohol marketing on
The World Health Organisation has recently
highlighted the problem globally and New Zealand’s
Health Research Council is funding the Massey study to the
tune of $600,000. The work will be done by the Massey Centre
for Social and Health Outcomes Research, and its director,
Sally Casswell, says it’s the first of its kind in
the world. Reporter David Stevenson has enlisted some thoughts
from young people themselves and he talks to Professor Casswell.
Casswell: New Zealand is particularly interesting because
we had a major policy change in the early ’90s which
allowed alcohol brand advertising on radio and television
for the first time. We’ve had some pretty sophisticated
television and radio campaigns since then. We’re now
getting exposed to a wide range of marketing, as is happening
internationally. Internet marketing, for example. So we know
young people grow up very much exposed to images of alcohol.
David Stevenson: Daniel, Paul, Terri and Kate are your average
15- and 16-year-olds. In a completely unscientific bit of
research I talked to them about their attitudes towards alcohol
and alcohol advertising.
Girl: Um, when I was probably like 11 or something, I started
looking at them. You don’t really notice them until
then. I started noticing the Speights ads because everyone
kind of, like, jokes about them at school.
Boy: Good on you mate.
Stevenson: Now you’re drinking beer. What about the
alcopop ads and things like that?
Stevenson: Well you know, the sweet drinks?
Boy: Dolly water.
Girl: In the ads, people who drink that stuff look cool.
If I didn’t see the KGB ads and the Vodka Cruiser ads
and all that sort of thing, it would probably just be the
straight vodka that you mix for yourself. But we see the
good alcohol on TV.
Boy: And they’re safer than a whole bottle so your
parents are more likely to give you, like, a box or like
a six pack of KGBs than give you a bottle of vodka.
Casswell: The industry needs to continually recruit new consumers
of alcohol because they’re continually losing people
from the other end, as they die or mature or get mortgages
or whatever. So they’re obviously interested in not
losing their consumer base. We’ve certainly seen increases
in the amounts young people are drinking over the past 10
years. And yes, I think it’s quite clear that some
of the products that have been developed and some of the
ways of marketing are very attractive to young people. There’s
a lot of sponsorship. If you go onto some of the beer company
websites, you’ll see linkages with radio channels and
radio programmes that are very much targeted at young people.
You’ll see there’s sponsorship of big events
like the Big Day Out. So there’s very clearly explicit
linkage with youth culture. Alcohol brands are really like
other brands that kids identify with. In a sense they promote
their own identity by being identified with the brands.
Boy: Especially people younger than us, they’re into,
like, Lion Red and stuff all the time. You see them with
boxes of Lion Red.
Girl: The man’s drink.
Girl: It’s getting really common amongst younger people
now. You see a lot of kids on the street drinking…11
and stuff, out on the streets and, like, just drinking. They
don’t tell their parents, they say they’re going
to the movies. I don’t know where they get the alcohol
Stevenson: So do you think they’re being influenced
by the advertising?
Girl: The ads look cool to drink.
Boy: And they’d probably be influenced by older people.
Boy: Like us, yeah. Because we drink they think, oh, sweet.
Casswell: The project will take three years. The Health Research
Council is interested because some of the ideas that we gain
should be useful for thinking about health promotion and
ways of talking to young people about healthy responses.
They might also be useful for the policy debate around alcohol
marketing and whether what’s happening now is appropriate
or not appropriate.
Girl: Whenever a new drink comes out, the new ad comes out.
And, like, they change alcohol to make it seem you’ll
be smarter and have more fun if you have it. There’s
the ad where they get in a plane with all these rich people
and go and have fun and say the beer made them.
Casswell: What we’re trying to do in this research
is get a picture of the way they and their friends are seeing
the world. Through very, very careful, very detailed analysis
of what they say, we hope to understand whether there’s
a relationship between the kind of images they’re receiving
and the values they’re incorporating into their daily
lives. What is the relationship between the way they see
the world and the way they see alcohol and the way they see
their relationships with their peers and so on? So, it’s
trying to get a sense of their understanding of their world
and the meanings they bring to what they see and hear. We’re
looking at their truth, if you like, and what it means for
Stevenson: Do you go back to them to see whether their ideas
Casswell: Yes, we’re starting with groups of young
people at different ages. We’ll go back to them several
times over the three-year period, hoping to pick up the way
in which their ideas progress. These are very key years,
from 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17, in terms of building a relationship
with alcohol. These are the years when young kids are generally
starting to want to drink, and see their peers drinking.
Girl: Like, when a new drink comes out, you kind of look
at that and you think oh, I’d better try that. Because
otherwise you can’t really walk into a liquor store
and go, oh, just having a look around. So we see it on TV
and think, oh, I’d better get someone to get that for
me so I can try it. That’s the only way under 18 people
can actually see the alcohol and the stuff that’s new.
Stevenson: Does it differ from culture to culture within
New Zealand or from socio-economic groups?
Casswell: That’s one of the things we’ll be looking
at. We will look at both M¯aori and non-M¯aori
in this research and yes, I would say that there are most
definitely cultural and socio-economic differences in norms
Stevenson: Can the results from a New Zealand survey such
as this be relevant to other countries?
Casswell: Yes, certainly they will be. We know that in many
ways New Zealand is very similar to other industrialised
countries, and increasingly youth culture is a global culture.
Boy: Like that new Lion Red ad, they’ve got the dudes
and the chicks on it, sweet.
Boy: Alcohol makes your butt look better, that’s what
they portray on the ads too.
Boy: Pick up the chicks.
Abridged transcript from National Radio’s In Touch
With New Zealand.