Are teenagers turning away from cigarettes?

In the last decade, governments around the world have stepped up in their efforts to reduce the number of smokers, like bans on smoking in public spaces and the roll-out of plain packets with graphic health warnings.

Although smoking is still the biggest cause of premature deaths – followed closely by obesity – new research has shown that the measures may be working, as the research suggests that young people are starting to reject cigarettes.

The study, which looked at high school students in England, indicated that the number of students trying cigarettes to just 16% in 2018. The series began in the 1980s; in 1996, 49% of teenagers had smoked tobacco, and in 2016 it had fallen to 19%.

However, the 2018 survey, which surveyed 13,000 pupils, also shows that:

  • 17% of 11-15 year old drink alcohol at least once a week – with figures ranging from 2% of 11 years olds, to 38% of 15 year olds and 6% of all students saying they drink alcohol at least once a week.
  • 13% said that they think it’s okay to smoke cannabis – this was 30% for 15 year olds.
  • 25% of the students said they had, at some point, tried using e-cigarettes
  • Overall, around half of the young people who had used alcohol, cigarettes or drugs had also experienced mental health problems or low happiness levels.

According to the researchers, there are a number of reasons for the decline in cigarette use. They believe the most substantial has been campaigns highlighting the dangers of smoking, which have also resulted in a change in public attitude towards cigarettes.

In addition, it has become much harder in recent years for young people to buy tobacco. Around 70% of those surveyed said they got cigarettes from a friend or family member, and just 23% of them said they were able to buy them from shops – in 2014, this figure was 46%.

Experts also point to the rise in the number of young people vaping since 2016. They say that it could simply be that young people are ditching cigarettes in favour of e-cigarettes. Some researchers say this could lead teens directly to smoking, but this is heavily disputed.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of the charity Action on Smoking and Health said: “The proportion trying e-cigarettes has not increased and vaping remains largely concentrated among those who are already smokers. This provides reassurance that our regulations are working and vaping has not become the “super-cool” phenomenon among young people in England that it is said to be in the USA.

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