Rebellious pupils seek bigger thrill than cigarettes

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The surreptitious smoke behind the bike sheds, once the chosen pastime of every naughty schoolchild, holds no cachet with the modern playground rebel.

The surreptitious smoke behind the bike sheds, once the chosen pastime of every naughty schoolchild, holds no cachet with the modern playground rebel.

A large proportion of today's schoolchildren will not bother to try a single cigarette. Instead many will prefer to experiment with illegal drugs, indulge in weekly alcoholic binges, carry knives and smash up the local neighbourhood, a study suggests. Cigarettes, shorn of their social cachet and comparatively lacking in mood-altering qualities, hold little attraction for many children.

Research published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the majority of children in their first two years of secondary school had not tried a cigarette and almost half the boys interviewed had not used tobacco by the time they reached 16.

But a quarter of 16-year-old boys admitted carrying a knife – a higher number than those who occasionally smoked.

Children were more likely to be binge alcohol drinkers than smokers, with more than half saying they had consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in a single session.

The report noted that "smoking appeared less attractive as an 'under-age' activity" than heavy drinking.

In all, 59 per cent of boys aged 15 or 16, and 54 per cent of girls had been "seriously drunk" in the past month, but only 15 per cent of boys and 17 per cent of girls were "regular smokers".

David Utting, the co-author of the report, said children did not see adult role models smoking, unlike previous generations who had been influenced by images of film and music stars with cigarettes.

He said youngsters also appeared to be heeding public health warnings on the dangers of smoking.

Mr Utting said: "This is good news for the health campaigners to the extent that the levels of smoking among young people, even the older ones in year 11, appear to be relatively low – certainly compared to the under-age use of alcohol."

Phil Taylor, the head of Stanford High School, a small comprehensive school inAshton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, said that in his experience smoking was no longer the symbol of rebellion it once was.

He said schools now presented more consistent anti-smoking policies and nearly all had banned teachers from smoking in the staff room. "Those students who do attempt to smoke on school premises are not trying to berebellious. Unfortunately these are the real addicts – young people who started smoking very young and now really can't stop," Mr Taylor said.

Amanda Sandford, of the pressure group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said young people were beginning to respond to the health message. "We are going into a period where there's more liberalisation of cannabis and it's more readily available.

"Young people are picking up on that and there's more fashionability with that than smoking tobacco," she said.

Ms Sandford said the trend was particularly pronounced among teenage boys, who she said were more rebellious and saw little excitement in obtaining cigarettes.

She said: "They say, 'Well, anyone can do that'. With drugs and stronger alcohol it's more of a sign of rebellion and kudos among their peer group."

If children smoked anything, it was increasingly likely to be a cannabis joint, the study found. It showed that 31 per cent of boys aged 15 or 16 and 25 per cent of girls of the same age had tried cannabis, compared with 53 per cent of boys and 65 per cent of girls who had tried a cigarette. Some 9 per cent of boys and 5 per cent of girls described themselves as regular users of cannabis.

The study, based on interviews with 14,000 children aged between 11 and 17 in secondary schools in England, Scotland and Wales, supported earlierresearch that showed smoking was far more popular among girls than boys. The foundation found that smoking among girls was greater than among boys in every year throughout secondary school.

Although one-third of female pupils had not tried a cigarette by the time they reached 16, some 29 per cent admitted occasional use of tobacco compared with 22 per cent of boys.

Twelve per cent said they had carried a weapon to school and 6 per cent had used class A drugs, such as LSD, ecstasy or cocaine.

But the findings of the survey revealed that the rebels had far from taken over.

Most pupils felt they had strong family backgrounds and acknowledged that their parents "often showed they were proud of them".

Three out of four admitted that they usually tried their best in class and only one in three was prepared to agree with the statement "I hate school".