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Smoking, drinking among young people falling but not enough, report shows
Smoking and drinking among young people is decreasing, according to the latest study by Flanders’ Alcohol and Drug expertise centre (VAD). However, they warn that the numbers are still too high and advise schools to carry out targeted prevention campaigns.
Each year, VAD carries out a survey among 7,500 children in secondary school to learn about their habits in smoking, drinking, psychoactive medicines, illegal drugs, betting and gaming. It monitors trends and proposes action to combat problem behaviour.
In the past 10 years, VAD has recorded a number of downward trends in alcohol use. The number of children who say they have drunk alcohol has fallen from 75% to 55%, and regular use has fallen by more than half, from 22% to 10%. The age at which children start drinking has also increased: between 2011 and 2018, it fell by a year.
“It is too early to celebrate, however,” VAD said in a press release. “That four in 10 pupils under 16 are still drinking alcohol is too high. It’s no wonder when you consider that more than half of this age group says they can easily buy beer or wine. And the fact that more than four in 10 pupils say they can easily buy spirits points to problems in how the law is enforced.”
For the first time, even in the oldest age group, the majority of children have never smoked. In 2017-18 the number of regular smokers was almost three times lower than 10 years ago. And the average age at which children start to smoke has risen by a year. Tobacco use remains high, however, particularly among older children. A recent change in the law increases the age at which someone can buy cigarettes from 16 to 18.
E-cigarettes have been included in the survey for the first time. 23% of pupils have smoked e-cigarettes at least once, and 17% had done so in the previous year. More boys than girls smoke e-cigarettes, but the number of regular or daily users is still low.
VAD proposes a number of measures to reduce these number further. These include raising cigarette prices, banning adverts and displays in shops, limiting the number of places where cigarettes can be bought, and carrying out campaigns in schools.
“The results show that continued preventive efforts tailored to the target group are bearing fruit,” health minister Wouter Beke said. “I am convinced that targeted prevention can also successfully tackle new challenges.”
The full report is available here.
Photo: Getty Images