The latest findings on teenage drinking, smoking and drug use across Europe are released the 26th of March, 2009.*
The countries that participated in ESPAD 2007 were Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. The UK sample included 2,179 teenagers (1004 boys and 1175 girls).
The latest ESPAD findings show that:
- Alcohol consumption at least once in the past year amongst European teenagers (including those in the UK) had remained fairly stable since 1995 at about 80% of all students. The 2007 survey indicated a small fall in the UK overall total from 91% to 88% in 2007.
- Once more UK teenagers reported high levels of binge drinking, intoxication and alcohol-related individual, relationship, sexual and delinquency problems. They ranked third highest (after Bulgaria and the Isle of Man) in relation to such problems.
- The UK ranked 7th in relation to the percentage of teens who had ‘binged’ (consumed five or more drinks on at least one occasion) in the past 30 days. A total of 54% of UK teenagers had reportedly done this. The highest levels of ‘binge’ drinking were in the Isle of Man (61%), Denmark (60%), Malta (57%), Portugal (56%), Estonia and Latvia (54%).
- In 2003 it was revealed that teen girls in the UK (as well as Ireland and the Isle of Man) were more likely than boys to have binged in the previous 30 days. The 2007 survey shows that girls were more likely than boys to be binge drinkers in the UK, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
- UK teenagers ranked third highest (after Denmark and the Isle of Man) in relation to self-reports of having been drunk in the past 30 days. A total of 33% of UK teens reported such recent intoxication.
- Girls reported higher levels of such recent drunkenness than boys in nine countries. These were the Isle of Man, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands and Monaco. The fact that some teenage girls are ‘binge’ drinking even more than boys suggests that in the UK and elsewhere a profound social change has been taking place. It is clearly no longer socially unacceptable for females to drink heavily or to become intoxicated. This may reflect factors such as greater female social and economic empowerment and changing social roles as well as the marketing practices of the beverage alcohol industry.
- The percentages of UK teens who had binged at least three times in the past 30 days was almost the same as it had been in 2003. Altogether, 26% of boys and 27% of girls reported having done this.
- Binge drinking amongst girls had increased across Europe since 1995. It had remained relatively stable amongst boys since 1999.
- A striking feature of UK teenagers was that they were more likely than those in nearly all other countries to report that they expected positive consequences from drinking. Only Denmark and the Isle of Man scored higher in this respect.
- Overall, cigarette use by European teenagers had fallen since 1999. In the UK it had fallen since 1995.Lifetime prevalence of smoking across Europe ranged from 24% and 80%. Smoking in the past 30 days ranged from 7% in Armenia to 45% in Austria. Altogether 22% of UK teens (17% of boys and 25% of girls) had smoked in the past 30 days.
- Lifetime illicit drug use amongst teenagers across Europe had risen between 1995 and 2003. It had fallen since then. In the UK it had fallen since 1995.
- The highest lifetime use of any illicit drug was reported by teenagers in the Czech Republic (46%), followed by Spain (38%), the Isle of Man (35%) and Switzerland ( 34%). UK teens ranked 9th in this respect (29%).
- The highest lifetime use of cannabis was reported by teens in the Czech Republic (45%), Spain (36%), the Isle of Man (34%) and Switzerland (33%). UK teenagers ranked 7th in this respect (29%). A total of 11% of UK teenagers reported having used cannabis in the past 30 days.
Professor Martin Plant of the University of the West of England, Bristol, commented: “ESPAD shows that the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs is widespread amongst 15 and 16 year olds across Europe. Even so, there has been a fall in both smoking and illicit drug use. This is good news for the health of young adults. Alcohol consumption has remained fairly stable, although a small reduction has recently been evident amongst boys. The UK retains its unenviable position in relation to both binge drinking, intoxication and alcohol-related problems amongst teenagers. This problem is both serious and chronic. I hope that the Government will prioritise policies that are effective to reduce heavy drinking and alcohol-related disorder and health problems amongst young people. Increasing numbers of young people are developing serious health problems related to drinking. More and more younger people also are dying prematurely due to their alcohol use.
“There is a clear scientific consensus that alcohol education and mass media campaigns have a very poor track record in influencing drinking habits. Far more effective (and cost effective) policies include using taxation to make alcohol less affordable. Alcohol problems do not only affect a tiny minority of very heavy drinkers. Everyone has a stake in public health and safety. Moreover, many people whose alcohol consumption is generally moderate also experience some adverse effects from their drinking. It is therefore recommended that a minimum price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol should be introduced. This would save over 3,000 lives per year. It would also reduce problems such as absenteeism, public disorder and hospital admissions. This measure would particularly affect harmful and hazardous drinkers. It could save £1 billion per year in the cost of alcohol-related harm. In addition, serious consideration must be given to raising the minimum age at which young people may consume or purchase alcoholic beverages, perhaps to eighteen years of age.”
* The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) is a study of 15 and 16 year old teenagers in 35 European countries. It is by far the most detailed international study on this subject. ESPAD has been carried out previously in 1995, 1999 and 2003. The latest ESPAD was carried out in 2007.
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