Four in 10 teenagers admit they have smoked cannabis

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Ten per cent of people in England and Wales say they have used cannabis in the past year, and 40 per cent of children aged 15 or 16 have tried it, says a survey that ranks British consumption as among the highest in Europe.

Ten per cent of people in England and Wales say they have used cannabis in the past year, and 40 per cent of children aged 15 or 16 have tried it, says a survey that ranks British consumption as among the highest in Europe.

The findings, revealed in a European Union-wide report yesterday, give a graphic indication of the extent of cannabis use and came as a further 16 MPs, including a minister, admitted taking the drug.

The report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction says that cannabis is used by at least 45 million Europeans - five million more than last year's estimate. Lifetime use of the drug, in other words any experience of it during a person's life, is 25 per cent.

Among young English and Welsh adults that figure rises to about 40 per cent, says the report, which bases its findings on surveys from 1998 where 42 per cent of those aged 16 to 29 reported having tried cannabis at least once.

Figures among school-age children are also high. A survey of pupils aged 15 or 16, made in 1995, showed 41 per cent had experienced cannabis, while another study two years later put the figure at 37.5 per cent.

Among EU states, Luxembourg had the highest proportion of problem drug users at about seven per 1,000 people between the ages of 15 and 64. It was followed by Italy, with six, and Britain and Spain with five.

National drugs policies appear to have little impact on consumption and a more important factor may be whether countries are on a trafficking route, the researchers concluded. The report also highlights the worrying rise in Britain and Spain in the availability of cheap heroin.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Paddy Tipping, the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, became the first minister to own up to smoking cannabis since seven members of the shadow Cabinet made similar confessions at the weekend. The MP for Sherwood said he attended parties as a student where cannabis was available. "I did have a few puffs but it made me sick. It was a long time ago and I've never tried it since," he said.

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