British teenagers are taking drugs, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes at a lower rate than they did a decade ago, according to a report from the National Health Service’s Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
Drug consumption among youths between the ages of 11 and 15 dropped by 12 percent over the past ten years – one-in-six (17 percent) of the kids in this age group said they took drugs in 2011, versus a comparable figure of 29 percent in 2001.
Among 15-year-olds, the percentage plunged from 39 percent to 23 percent.
As for smoking, only 25 percent of children in this age range admitted to tobacco use at least once, the lowest such figure ever recorded since NHS surveys began thirty years ago. Only 5 percent described themselves as regular smokers (down from 10 percent in 2001).
Alcohol is a far more popular activity among English youth, but even drinking rates are falling – from 61 percent in 2001 to less than half (45 percent) last year. The proportion of kids who drank at least once a week plummeted from 20 percent in 2001 to 7 percent last year.
“The report shows that pupils appear to be leading an increasingly clean-living lifestyle and are less likely to take drugs as well as cigarettes and alcohol,” said HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan.
“The findings also include for the first time more information about where pupils are accessing drugs and we can see they mainly get them from their peers. All this material will be of immense interest to those who work with young people and aim to steer them towards a healthier way of life.”
Siobhan McCann, of the British charity Drinkaware, expressed some caution about the data:
"While the decline in the number of children trying alcohol is good news, the report still shows there are 360,000 young people who reported drinking alcohol in the last week alone," she said.
Britons, on the whole, including adults, have been drinking less and less over the past decade, despite the media’s infatuation with stories of “binge drinking.”
According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, the average weekly consumption rate for the nation as a while climbed steadily during the 1990s, reached a peak in the early 2000s and has declined ever since.
“With newspapers, the headline is always the same: 'Shock rise in binge drinking'. But you look at the figures, and you see alcohol sales are declining,” said David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group, an association of alcohol producers, according to BBC.
"It's a myth that we need to make alcohol more expensive [to make people quit drinking]. These trends are being reversed on their own."
Neil Williams of the British Beer and Pubs Association (BBPA) said that overall alcohol sales in the UK peaked in 2004 and fell 13 percent over the next seven years.
"To a certain extent it's a mystery," Poley added. "There may be multiple reasons. But around that time, the UK did see the launch of some major alcohol health warning campaigns.”
Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, suggested that alcohol consumption is a function of the strength of the economy.
“It is very likely that alcohol consumption will rise again once the economy picks up,” he said.
“So government alcohol policy should ensure alcohol becomes less affordable permanently, not just in an economic downturn."