School children are drinking less alcohol, smoking or taking drugs than in previous years, according to the latest national survey of English schools published today.
However, there are significant regional variations which show that children in the north-east are far more likely to have tried alcohol or cigarettes while those in the south of England are more likely to have taken drugs.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) today published its Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2012 report, which contains results from a survey of 7,590 pupils in 254 schools in the autumn term of 2012. The surveys have taken place since 1982.
It shows there was a continuation in long-term reductions in the rates of school children drinking, smoking and taking illicit drugs and in their tolerance for peers doing so.
In 2012, less than half of pupils (43%) had ever drunk alcohol, compared to 61% a decade ago in 2002 while 23% of 11 to 15 year olds had tried smoking compared to 42% in 2002.
Fewer than one in five (17%) had ever tried drugs, compared to 27% in 2002, according to the survey, which was carried out for the HSCIC by NatCen Social Research.
The proportion of school pupils who have tried drinking or smoking is highest in the north-east, found the authors.
In the north-east, over half (51%) of pupils aged between 11 and 15 had drunk alcohol compared to under a third (31%) in London where the proportion who had drunk alcohol was lowest.
The north-east was also top for the proportion of school children who had ever smoked – 30% of pupils in the region had tried it, compared with 22% in London, the west midlands and the east midlands.
For drug taking, the proportion of pupils who have ever tried drugs was generally higher in southern regions and lower in the north.
The highest proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds who had tried drugs was in London (20%) and the lowest were in Yorkshire and Humber and the north-west (15% in both).
HSCIC chair Kingsley Manning said: “We now have a fascinating insight into school children's use of and attitudes towards drink, smoking and drugs.
“The regional breakdowns we have been able to provide will prove invaluable to public health and health professionals, enabling them to tackle the real issues involved in improving young peoples' health effectively.”
Responding to the continuing decline in smoking among 11-15 year olds, charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “The continued decline in child smoking shows the importance of having a comprehensive tobacco control strategy.
“Much has been achieved in recent years, but still around 200,000 children take up smoking each year. The failure of the government to bring forward legislation to implement standard packaging was a missed opportunity to significantly reduce the attractiveness of smoking to children.”