British teenagers worst in Europe for drink and drugs

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The Independent Online

British teenagers take more hard drugs, get drunk more often and start smoking earlier than most counterparts in Europe, a new study shows. Parents who do not know where their children go at night and take no control were partly to blame, the authors said.

British teenagers take more hard drugs, get drunk more often and start smoking earlier than most counterparts in Europe, a new study shows. Parents who do not know where their children go at night and take no control were partly to blame, the authors said.

More than 60,000 teenagers aged 15 and 16 from 30 countries, including 2,600 from 223 schools in the UK, were questioned in the survey on how alcohol, tobacco and drug use had changed in five years.

One in five British teenagers said they were smoking daily by the age of 13, the highest level in the study.

One in three had been drunk more than 20 times by 15. The survey showed Britain had the highest levels of binge drinking and drunkenness, alongside Denmark, Ireland, Poland and Finland.

Almost 40 per cent of UK teenagers had tried illegal drugs, including cannabis, and 12 per cent had used hard drugs such as heroin, crack and cocaine. Although drug-taking had fallen slightly since 1995, Britain still topped the league.

British parents were among those who knew least about what their children were doing. One in 10 teenagers said their parents "usually don't know" where they went on Saturday evenings and these youngsters were more likely to take drugs. This was the highest level in the survey, double the rate in France, which scored lowest for teenagers getting drunk, binge drinking and taking hard drugs.

Martin Plant, a sociologist who led the UK survey, said there was a lack of communication and control by some UK parents, who had to take more responsibility.

"French parents communicate more with their children, which suggests they might be better in delineating some sort of boundaries as to what is acceptable and unacceptable," he said. "We have to encourage parents to get a better handle on this because some of them clearly find it very difficult."

Dr Plant, director of the Alcohol and Health Research Centre in Edinburgh, added that some parents set a "bad example" to their children.

"If boys and girls are raised in families where smoking or drinking or misuse of prescribed medication or illicit drugs is taking place, thenthey are going to think that is normal," he said.

Dr Plant highlighted the easy availability of drugs, cigarettes and drink for British teenagers on the bootleg market and in bars, in off-licences that ignored the ban on under-age sales, or from young drug-dealers in schools.

The legal age for buying cigarettes should be raised from 16 to 18, he said.

About 1,200 people in the UK die each year from illegal drugs, about 35,000 die prematurely from alcohol-related diseases, and smoking kills 120,000.

Dr Plant said the 20 per cent of teenagers who smoked on a daily basis by the age of 13 was of real concern because they were at risk of continuing to smoke in adulthood.

Teenagers indulging in binge drinking at the weekend was another very worrying trend. "Teenagers have adopted this behaviour at a younger age," said Dr Plant. "What we are seeing is very large numbers of teenagers going out and getting drunk, often in licensed premises where they should not be at all."

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