The number of young people who smoke, drink and take drugs has fallen to its lowest ever levels as retailers’ efforts to clamp down on underage sales and better education in schools takes effect.
In 2014, 18% of 11 to 15 year olds had tried smoking at least once – the lowest level recorded since the annual ‘Smoking Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People survey began in 1982. Rates have plummeted from 42% in 2003, and from 22% in 2013, the new Health and Social Care Information Centre figures show.
In 2014, 3% of pupils were defined as regular smokers, that is, they smoke at least one cigarette a week. This is at a similar level to 2013, and confirms the decline since 2002, when 10% of pupils were regular smokers.
The report also revealed that the vast majority (87%) of pupils who smoked were given their cigarettes by an older proxy purchaser.
The proportion of all pupils (not just smokers) who tried to buy cigarettes in a shop also fell to 4% in 2014 – down from 5% in 2012 and 10% in 2008.
However, of that 4%, 42% claimed that they always succeeded in buying cigarettes, down from 49% in 2012.
For the first time, in 2014 pupils were also asked about their awareness and usage of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) and legal highs.
Just under a quarter of pupils (22%) said they had used e-cigs on at least one occasion. E-cig usage was highest amongst pupils who already smoked cigarettes regularly (89%).
Meanwhile just over half of pupils (51%) had heard of legal highs and 6% had been offered them.
The proportion of pupils who had tried alcohol at least once was also at its lowest level since the survey began, with 38% of 11 to 15 year olds having tried it in 2014 – slightly down on 2013 figures.