New figures for 2013 show the prevalence of smoking, drinking or drug use among school pupils(2) is considerably lower than ten years ago.
Today's report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) shows that just three per cent of pupils were regular smokers(2) in 2013 compared to nine per cent ten years ago in 2003. In 2013, nine per cent of pupils had drunk alcohol in the last week, which is less than half the level in 2003 when this was 25 per cent.
Drug use has also declined considerably, six per cent of school pupils in 2013 had used illegal drugs in the last month which is the same as in 2011 and 2012, but is half the level in 2003 when this was 12 per cent.
The Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2013 report is based on survey results of over 5,000 pupils (5,187) in 174 schools in the autumn term of 2013. The report documents a continuation of the long-term reductions in the rates of school pupils drinking, smoking or taking illicit drugs.
The report provides an insight into attitudes and showed that illegal drug use was considered the least acceptable compared to smoking and drinking alcohol. One in four (26 per cent) school pupils reported 'it was OK for someone their age to drink alcohol once a week', compared to one in eight (12 per cent) for smoking cigarettes once a week and only one in twenty (5 per cent) to take cannabis once a week. Cannabis was the drug with the highest acceptance rating(3).
The report also shows that in 2013 in England:
- Less than one quarter of pupils (22 per cent) reported they had ever tried smoking at least once compared to four in ten (42 per cent) ten years ago in 2003. This is the lowest level recorded since the survey began in 1982.
- One in six pupils (16 per cent) reported having ever taken drugs compared to almost one in three (30 per cent) in 2003.
- Pupils who reported that they had ever truanted or been excluded were more likely to say that they usually took drugs at least once a month (10 per cent) compared to those who had never truanted or been excluded (one per cent). In 2003 the levels were more than double this (21 per cent and three per cent respectively).
- Around four in ten pupils (39 per cent) reported that they had ever drunk alcohol compared to six in ten (61 per cent) in 2003; boys and girls were equally likely to have drunk alcohol.
- Cannabis was the most commonly used drug used among school pupils where seven per cent reported having taken this in the last year. This has consistently been the most common drug used over the last decade.
- One in 50 (two per cent) pupils had reported all three behaviours; smoking and drinking in the last week and having used drugs in the last month, and this is similar to figures reported in previous years.
HSCIC Chair Kingsley Manning said: "Today's report provides encouraging evidence that fewer young people are regularly smoking, drinking or using drugs, and levels have halved compared to ten years ago.
"It is certainly noteworthy that drug use has stayed stable in recent years.
"Our report will be of great interest to services for young people, policy leaders and those working in public health."
The full report can be accessed at: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/pubs/sdd13
Responding to the report
The British Heart Foundation commented: Smoking among young people in England is at a record low, according to new statistics released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
Figures show 20% of the 5,187 secondary school pupils surveyed in 2013 had tried smoking at least once - the lowest level recorded since the survey began in 1982.
The statistics follow a 10-year decline since 2003, when 42% of pupils had tried smoking.
However, estimates show 100,000 young people aged between 11 and 15 are still classed as regular smokers in England. A third of pupils also thought it was okay to try smoking.
Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: "It is encouraging to see that progress is being made to protect young people against this deadly addiction.
"But we cannot ignore the fact that the health of 100,000 young people in England is still being damaged by the regular use of these potentially lethal products.
"The Government needs to pull out all the stops to reduce the numbers of smokers further by making standardised packaging law. Every day of delay is allowing more young people to take up this toxic habit."
The British Lung Foundation commented: Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "It is always welcome news when evidence suggests that smoking rates among children are decreasing. However, with 22 per cent of children still saying that they have tried smoking, we need to do more to ensure that we continue to reduce the detrimental damage it has on their health.
"We are at a pivotal time when Government has a real chance to help protect our children from the tobacco industry. As Government decide whether to introduce two of the most important pieces of legislation of our time - to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products and to ban smoking in cars when children are present - we urge them to listen to the overwhelming support and implement them at the soonest possible time".