Fewer teenagers drink, smoke and taking drugs


A new report on smoking, drinking and drug use among school children by the NHS Information Centre shows that the proportion of teenagers drinking, smoking and taking drugs in England continues to decline.

In 2010, 27% of pupils had smoked at least once, compared with more than half of pupils (53%) who had ever smoked in 1982. Between 2009 and 2010 the percentage of 11-15 year olds who had tried alcohol fell from 51% to 45%. And 27% of pupils said they had smoked at least once, while 18% had tried drugs.

This survey is the latest in a series designed to monitor smoking, drinking and drug use among secondary school pupils aged 11 to 15. Information was obtained from 7,296 pupils in 246 schools throughout England in the autumn term of 2010.

One in 20 pupils said they were a regular smoker and girls were more likely to smoke than boys. Smokers were also more likely to have drunk alcohol or to have taken drugs.

In 2001, 29% of those surveyed said they had used other drugs. That figure has fallen to 18%, with the most commonly used drug being cannabis, taken by 8.2% of pupils.

Between 2003 and 2010, the percentage of pupils saying it was "okay" for someone their own age to drink once a week went from 46% to 32%.

Chris Sorek, Chief Executive of Drinkaware, said: “These statistics are not just encouraging because they show a drop in the number of children who have tried alcohol, but also because they show a positive shift in attitudes.  To see that fewer children are tolerant of their peers drinking is an early sign of a change in the nation’s drinking culture. 

“While 55% of children haven’t tried alcohol, this still means 45% have.  Most children think their friends are drinking to look ‘cool’ and peer pressure is ever-present among 11 to 15 year olds.  This shows that alcohol education should focus both on the harms of underage drinking and adopt a life-skills approach to give children the confidence they need to challenge the pressures they feel to fit in.

“Parents also have a critical role in shaping their children’s attitudes to drinking, by being role models and not suppliers of alcohol. These statistics show that in many cases children’s first experiences of alcohol are with their parents.  The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend an alcohol-free childhood is healthiest and best.  Parents need to be equipped with the facts about alcohol so they can talk to their children in the pre-teen years, before peer influence sets in."

Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said: "Our figures point to an increasingly intolerant attitude among young people in today's society when it comes to the use of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

"As well as a reduction in the percentage who say they partake in these behaviours; a shrinking number think that drinking and drunkenness is acceptable among their peers."

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