Underage smoking and drinking falling - but ecstasy use among 16-24 year-olds soars

Ecstasy use among the age group has risen by over one third in just one year

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The Independent Online

Underage smoking and drinking among young teenagers in England is at its lowest level in over thirty years – while ecstasy use among 16-24 year olds is on the rise.

An annual survey of secondary school pupils from 210 schools aged between 11-15 by Nat Cen Social Research and the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed that the proportion of younger teenagers trying alcohol and smoking in 2014 was the lowest since the survey began in 1982.

Meanwhile, findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales has found that the proportion of young Britons taking ecstasy has soared in the last year.

Less than one in five of pupils 11 to 15 year olds said that they had smoked at least once, continuing the decline since 2003 when it was 42 per cent. 38 per cent said they had tried alcohol at least once.

Meanwhile, ecstasy use among 16-24 year olds is now at 5.4 per cent, the highest since 2003/4 and up by 38 per cent year on year compared to last year.

The last ten years have seen legislation introduced to reduce young people’s exposure to both second hand smoke and the display and sale of tobacco products, outlined in NatCen and the NFER’s report.


The Health Acts 2006 and 2009 included a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, increasing the minimum legal age for the sale of tobacco to 18 and phased prohibition of the display of tobacco in shops and banning the sale of cigarettes from vending machines.

The government has been rolling out successive strategies to combat problem drinking, most recently in 2012. The strategy in 2012 included working with local authorities and industries to promote responsible drinking, as well as legislation on the pricing and promotion of alcohol such as Scotland’s Alcohol Minimum Pricing Act.

Elizabeth Fuller, research director at NatCen Social Research, said: “We can’t be certain from this data what has caused the declines in smoking and drinking among young people.

“Recent legislation has targeted young smokers in particular, and it is likely that tighter restrictions on selling tobacco to young people have had an effect, making it harder for young people to obtain cigarettes.”