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School pupil survey: smoking, drinking and drug use at decade low

July 24, 2014: New figures for 2013 show the prevalence of smoking, drinking or drug use among school pupils is considerably lower than ten years ago.

*HSCIC must be quoted as the source of these figures

Today's report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) shows that just three per cent of pupils were regular smokers2 in 2013 compared to nine per cent ten years ago in 2003. In 2013, nine per cent of pupils had drunk alcohol in the last week, which is less than half the level in 2003 when this was 25 per cent.

Drug use has also declined considerably, six per cent of school pupils in 2013 had used illegal drugs in the last month which is the same as in 2011 and 2012, but is half the level in 2003 when this was 12 per cent.

The Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2013 report is based on survey results of over 5,000 pupils (5,187) in 174 schools in the autumn term of 2013. The report documents a continuation of the long-term reductions in the rates of school pupils drinking, smoking or taking illicit drugs.

The report provides an insight into attitudes and showed that illegal drug use was considered the least acceptable compared to smoking and drinking alcohol. One in four (26 per cent) school pupils reported 'it was OK for someone their age to drink alcohol once a week', compared to one in eight (12 per cent) for smoking cigarettes once a week and only one in twenty (5 per cent) to take cannabis once a week. Cannabis was the drug with the highest acceptance rating 3.

The report also shows that in 2013 in England:

  • Less than one quarter of pupils (22 per cent) reported they had ever tried smoking at least once compared to four in ten (42 per cent) ten years ago in 2003. This is the lowest level recorded since the survey began in 1982.
  • Around four in ten pupils (39 per cent) reported that they had ever drunk alcohol compared to six in ten (61 per cent) in 2003; boys and girls were equally likely to have drunk alcohol.
  • One in six pupils (16 per cent) reported having ever taken drugs compared to almost one in three (30 per cent) in 2003.
  • Pupils who reported that they had ever truanted or been excluded were more likely to say that they usually took drugs at least once a month (10 per cent) compared to those who had never truanted or been excluded (one per cent). In 2003 the levels were more than double this (21 per cent and three per cent respectively).
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used drug used among school pupils where seven per cent reported having taken this in the last year. This has consistently been the most common drug used over the last decade.
  • One in 50 (two per cent) pupils had reported all three behaviours; smoking and drinking in the last week and having used drugs in the last month, and this is similar to figures reported in previous years.

HSCIC Chair Kingsley Manning said: "Today's report provides encouraging evidence that fewer young people are regularly smoking, drinking or using drugs, and levels have halved compared to ten years ago.

"It is certainly noteworthy that drug use has stayed stable in recent years.

"Our report will be of great interest to services for young people, policy leaders and those working in public health."

The full report can be accessed at:


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). It is England's trusted data source, delivering high quality information and IT systems to drive better patient services, care and outcomes. Its work includes publishing more than 220 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. Lowest estimates since 2003 have been reported by school pupils aged 11 to 15 years in schools in England) for the following key estimates :

  • 'Regular smokers' who are those who reported usually smoking at least one cigarette a week
  • Pupils who had drunk alcohol in the last week
  • Pupils who had taken drugs in the last month.

3. All pupils were asked whether they thought it was OK for someone of their age to try smoking, drinking and taking specific drugs, (cannabis, cocaine, or sniffing glue), to see what it was like. Pupils were also asked whether it was OK for someone of their age to do each of these things once a week.

4. The first survey in the series, carried out in 1982, measured the prevalence of smoking among pupils and described their smoking behaviour. Other questions were added gradually over time: alcohol questions in 1988 and drug questions in 1998. Some questionnaire development is carried out each year so some questions on the survey have been added at different points. This report provides data about pupils who have ever tried, drinking,smoking or taking drugs and also which types of drugs they have been offered and which drugs they have taken. It also provides information about how much alcohol pupils drink and about their cigarette consumption.

5. Percentage numbers have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

6. For media enquiries please contact or 0300 303 3888.

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