The proxy purchasing of alcohol and cigarettes is on the rise as schoolchildren are finding it more difficult to purchase age-restricted goods from stores, according to a new study.

The survey into smoking, drinking and drug use among young people, carried out for the NHS Information Centre, quizzed 7,798 pupils aged 1115, across 264 schools, during the autumn term 2008. Among other things, the report shows that, contrary to public perception, the incidence of smoking, drinking and drug use among children aged 1115 is actually in decline.

More than half (52%) of pupils have had at least one alcoholic drink in their lifetime, compared to 61% in 2003. Those who have had a drink in the past week has fallen from a peak of 26% in 2001 to 18% in 2008.

The study notes that since the late 1990s there has been an increase in the proportion of youngsters who buy alcohol from family or friends, and a decline in the proportion who say they buy it from off licences. In 2008, pupils who drank were more likely to buy from friends or relatives (24%) than off licences (15%).

Youth smoking is also declining 32% of pupils have tried smoking at least once (down from a peak of 53% in 1982), and only 6% admitted to smoking once a week. This is the same figure as that recorded in 2007 and is well below the peak of 13% recorded in 1996.

The survey recorded that 39% of pupils said they found it difficult to buy cigarettes from shops, against the 24% recorded in 2006. For regular youth smokers, the proportion who usually buy from shops has fallen from 78% in 2006 to 55% in 2008, with 52% saying they buy cigarettes from other people compared to the previous peak of 42% in 2004.

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