NHS reports fall in drug, tobacco and alcohol use among schoolchildren
Biggest decline in smoking, where number of 11- to 15-year-olds who had smoked has fallen to 29%, from 54% in 1982
Fewer schoolchildren are smoking, drinking or taking drugs, according to an NHS report which contradicts the widespread belief that such behaviour is increasingly popular with young people.
The proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds who have taken drugs on at least one occasion has fallen from 29% in 2001 to 22% last year. And the proportion who admit to having ever used alcohol has dropped from 61% in 2003 to 51% in 2009. But the biggest decline has been in smoking. When the study began in 1982 53% of participants said they had smoked at least once, down to 29% last year.
The findings were welcomed by doctors, health campaigners and the Department of Health, which said that better education, public health campaigns and action by agencies may be among the factors that explain the drop.
But they warned that too many young people were still using at least one of the substances, especially the older children in the age range.
For example, while only one in 50 11-year-olds said last year that they had taken drugs in the previous month, almost a fifth of 15-year-olds had done so. Likewise, in 2009 just 3% of 11-year-olds had drunk alcohol during the previous week, compared with 38% of 15-year-olds.
Cannabis remains the drug that pupils are most likely to have taken (8.9%), followed by glue, gas or other volatile substances (5.5%). Researchers also found that pupils of mixed, Asian and black origin were more likely to have taken drugs, and that drug use was higher among truanting or excluded pupils.
"The survey shows an encouraging downward trend … countering some of the more alarmist claims, but the figures do have limitations," said Martin Barnes of Drugscope, which represents drugs workers across the UK. "Headline statistics can't show the harms that drug use causes to many children."
A health department spokesman said: "Children in this age group shouldn't really be drinking at all. We need to strengthen the penalties for selling alcohol to under-age children.
Thursday 22 July 2010 20.05 BST
Denis Campbell, health correspondent