Children in their early teens are less likely to have smoked, consumed alcohol or taken drugs than ever before, new figures reveal.
The annual Health and Social Care Information Centre survey of 6,000 pupils aged 11 to 15 found that record low numbers admit to having tried cigarettes in 2014, with alcohol and drug use also plummeting.
According to the survey, fewer than one in five 11-15 year-olds said they have smoked at least once, compared to 42 per cent 12 years ago. Only three per cent said they smoked at least once a week, compared to 10 per cent in 2002.
A higher proportion of teenagers had actually used e-cigarettes than traditional tobacco, with 22 per cent saying they had tried vaping. Most of those had already smoked cigarettes, but 11 per cent said they had never previously tried tobacco.
Pupils are also less likely now to approve of their friends smoking than they were in 2003. Only just over a quarter (26 per cent) said it was OK to try smoking at least once just to see what it was like, compared to 48 per cent in 2003.
The survey also found that 38 per cent of 11 to 15 year-olds in 2014 had tried alcohol at least once, the lowest level the survey has ever found. The figure hovered in the low 60s throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, but has declined rapidly over the past 10 years.
Fewer than one in 10 admitted to having tried alcohol in the past week – compared with 26 per cent in 2001 – while 17 per cent said they had obtained alcohol within the past four weeks. A record 64 per cent said they had never tried alcohol, well above the 36 per cent in 1990.
Drug use is also declining, with 15 per cent admitting to having tried drugs at some point, and just six per cent saying they had in the past month.
Cannabis remains the most popular drug, with 6.7 per cent saying they had tried it within the last year. Aside from that, 2.9 per cent said they had inhaled substances such as glue, gas or solvents in the past year. A statistically insignificant number admitted trying other drugs.
The figures suggest the nanny state may be working, at least on the younger generation. Last year, the British Medical Association, the UK’s main trade union for doctors, suggested banning cigarette sales to anyone born after the year 2000.
The move was described by smokers’ rights groups as “an impossible task” and called for “more research to find out why some smokers are more susceptible to illness than others, because it is indisputable that many live long and healthy lives.”