The number of young people taking up smoking has continued to fall in the past year, the latest NHS Smoking Drinking and Drug Use survey has revealed.

A quarter (25%) of 11- to 15-year-olds had smoked at least once in 2011, down from 27% in 2010, and the lowest proportion since the survey began in 1982 when the proportion was 53%.

Pupils were defined as regular smokers if they said they smoked at least one cigarette a week. In 2011, 5% of pupils were regular smokers, half the level in 2001, proof that current measures to reduce youth smoking such as Challenge 25, CitizenCard and Community Alcohol Partnerships were working, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said.

“There is a marked shift in attitudes and behaviours of young people towards smoking and drinking, and we’re proud that our members have played a crucial role in restricting access to these products by young people,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman.

“These findings are important context for the ongoing political debates about the need for more regulation of retailers. It is the positive work that industry, government and the wider community are doing together nationally and locally that is having an impact.”

The survey also revealed that the proportion of those aged 11 to 15 who had never drunk alcohol had risen in recent years, from 39% in 2003 to 55% in 2011.

Further strides in reducing underage sales were made this month when Visa, in partnership with Citizencard, launched a new proof-of-age and pre-paid card. As well as photo ID and date of birth, the card features an embedded chip which works with the retailers’ epos system to automatically verify the user’s age, blocking the sale if they are under 18.