The proportion of pupils experimenting with smoking has dropped to the lowest level on record – with more children having tried e-cigarettes than conventional tobacco, a major new study finds.
The survey, which questioned more than 6,000 pupils in 210 schools in England in 2014, also finds levels of alcohol consumption have dropped to a record low, with 38 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds having tried it.
Drug use is down as well, according to the figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
Just 18 per cent of pupils questioned have tried smoking, the lowest proportion since the annual survey began in 1982. There has been a continuous decline since 2003, when 42 per cent of pupils had tried it.
This year’s survey was the first to include questions on e-cigarettes, and finds that 22 per cent have used the devices at least once, with the majority (89 per cent) of these also regularly smoking tobacco.
Researchers also asked pupils about their use of water pipe tobacco – commonly known as shisha pipes – for the first time, with one in 10 having tried them at least once.
The survey revealed a decline in drug use. In 2014, 15 per cent of pupils had ever taken drugs and 10 per cent had taken drugs in the last year – both less than 2013.
HSCIC said that although drug use had continued to fall, the level of decline had slowed since 2010.
The survey also featured questions on legal highs and energy drinks for the first time, with 6 per cent of pupils saying that they sometimes or always drank energy drinks with alcohol.
Half of pupils (51 per cent) had heard of legal highs and 6 per cent had been offered them, although use was “relatively low” at 3 per cent.
HSCIC said the figures indicated that about 90,000 pupils aged 11-15 were regular smokers and about 240,000 had drunk alcohol in the past week. Approximately 180,000 had taken drugs in the past month and 310,000 had taken drugs in the past year.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health, said: “These results are entirely consistent with other British surveys showing that regular use of e-cigarettes among teenagers is tiny and is confined to those who are already regular smokers.
“They do not support the idea that experimentation with electronic cigarettes is a gateway into smoking as the number of young people trying smoking continues to decline year on year.
Ms Arnott added: “It’s very worrying that the survey was cancelled in 2015 and we call on the government to reinstate it from 2016 onwards.”