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North East has highest rates of experimentation with drinking and smoking among school children

25 July, 2013: The proportions of school pupils who have tried drinking or smoking is highest in the North East, according to a report published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

* HSCIC must be credited as the source of the figures in this release

* Regional information available

In the North East over half (51 per cent) of pupils aged between 11 and 15 have ever drunk alcohol compared to under a third (31 per cent) in London where the proportion who have ever drunk alcohol is lowest, combined figures for 2011 and 2012 indicate.

The North East also tops the table for the proportions of school children who have ever smoked; 30 per cent of pupils in the region have tried smoking, compared to 22 per cent in London, the West Midlands and the East Midlands.

However, the picture on drugs is different, where the proportions of pupils who have ever tried drugs are generally higher in southern regions and lower in the north. The highest proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds who have tried drugs is in London (20 per cent) and the lowest are in Yorkshire and Humber and the North West (15 per cent in both)5.

The figures are published today in Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2012, which surveyed 7,590 pupils in 254 schools in the autumn term of 2012. The report documents a continuation in the long-term reductions in the rates of school children drinking, smoking and taking illicit drugs and in their tolerance for peers doing so. The report shows that in 2012:

  • Less than half of pupils (43 per cent) had ever drunk alcohol, compared to 61 per cent a decade ago in 2002
  • Around two in ten (23 per cent) 11 to 15 year olds had ever tried smoking compared to around four in ten (42 per cent) ten years ago in 2002
  • Fewer than one in five (17 per cent) had ever tried drugs, compared to 27 per cent in 2002
  • The proportions of pupils who have ever drunk, smoked and taken drugs increases with age. For instance, 12 per cent of 11 year olds have ever had an alcoholic drink, compared to 74 per cent of 15 year olds
  • Among the 5 per cent of pupils who have tried to buy cigarettes from a shop in the past year, around half (49 per cent) said they had always managed to buy cigarettes6
  • In 2012, 28 per cent of pupils thought it was OK for someone or their age to drink once a week and 13 per cent to smoke once a week, compared to 46 per cent and 25 per cent respectively in 2003, the first year questions on attitudes were asked7.

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."

The report is at:

Supporting material with tables showing the proportions of pupils who have ever drunk alcohol, smoked or taken drugs broken down by region and sex are is here: pdf icon Supporting material for smoking, drinking and drugs press release [176kb]


Notes to editors

1. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) was established on April 1 2013 as an Executive Non Departmental Public Body (ENDPB). The trusted source of authoritative data and information relating to health and care, HSCIC plays a fundamental role in driving better care, better services and better outcomes for patients. It supports the delivery of IT infrastructure, information systems and standards to ensure information flows efficiently and securely across the health and social care system to improve patient outcomes. Its work includes publishing more than 130 statistical publications annually; providing a range of specialist data services; managing informatics projects and programmes and developing and assuring national systems against appropriate contractual, clinical safety and information standards.

2. NatCen Social Research (NatCen) carried out the survey on behalf of the Health and Social Care Information Centre. This is the most recent survey in a series that began in 1982. Each survey since 1998 has included a core set of questions on smoking, drinking and drug use and, since 2000, the remainder of the questionnaire has focused in alternate years on smoking and drinking or on drug taking. The emphasis of the 2012 survey is on drinking and smoking. Where regional breakdowns are provided, these are based on combined figures from the 2011 and 2012 surveys to ensure the sample size is large enough to provide statistically significant figures.

3. The survey report presents information on the percentage of pupils who have ever smoked, tried alcohol or taken drugs. The report also explores the attitudes and beliefs of school children towards drug taking and from where and from whom children obtain drugs. Relationships between smoking, drinking and drug use are explored along with the links between smoking, drinking, and drug use with other factors such as age, gender, ethnicity and previous truancy or exclusion.

4. Figures greater than 1,000 in the main body of this press release have been rounded to the nearest 10.

5. Tables showing the proportions of pupils who have ever drunk alcohol, smoked or taken drugs broken down by region and sex are contained in the separate supporting materials document that can be downloaded above.

6. In October 2007, it became illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18 (rather than 16), in England and Wales.

7. The report contains comparisons over time on pupils' attitudes to peers drinking and smoking as this is the emphasis of this year's report (see note 2), but does not contain comparisons over time on pupils' attitudes to peers taking drugs.

8. For media enquiries or interview requests please contact the press office on 0845 257 6990 or

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