Decrease in smoking and drug use among school children but increase in vaping, new report shows

Decrease in smoking and drug use among school children but increase in vaping, new report shows

Posted On: 06/09/2022

New figures from NHS Digital show a decrease in numbers of school children taking drugs and smoking cigarettes but a rise in vaping, with 9% of 11 to 15 year olds currently using e-cigarettes. 

The number of young people vaping has increased, with 9% of secondary school pupils currently (either regularly or occasionally) using e-cigarettes in 2021, an increase from 6% in 20181, statistics published today show.  

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England, 2021 report2 also found that cigarette smoking has decreased, 3% of pupils were current smokers, a decline from 5% in 2018. In addition, 12% reported having ever smoked, a decrease from 16% in 2018, and the lowest level ever recorded.

The report contains results from a biennial survey of secondary school pupils in England years 7-11 (mostly aged 11-15), focusing on smoking, drinking and drug use. 

The number of young people taking drugs has also decreased, 18% of pupils reported having ever taken drugs, a decline from 24% in 2018. 12% of pupils said they had taken drugs in the last year, down from 17% in 2018.

New analysis around the impact of Covid3 is included in this report, including how pupil’s took part in school learning in the last school year (September 2020 to July 2021) and how often they met others outside of school and home.    

Pupils who frequently met up with people outside their school or home, were more likely to have recently smoked, drunk alcohol or taken drugs.  

Of pupils who met with people every day, 9% were current smokers, 12% usually drank alcohol once a week, and 19% had taken drugs in the last month. For pupils who had never met other people in the last four weeks, these proportions fell to 1%, 2%, and 2% respectively. 

The report also looks at wellbeing, with pupils asked questions around life satisfaction, happiness, and anxiety. 

Low levels of life satisfaction4 were experienced by 57% of young people who had recently smoked, drank alcohol and taken drugs. This compared to 35% who had recently done just one of these things, and 18% who had not recently smoked, drank or taken drugs.      

Other statistics included in the report revealed:   

  • Regular smokers who are also regular e-cigarette users more than doubled, from 29% of regular smokers in 2018 to 61% in 2021 
  • 18% of all 15 year olds were current e-cigarette users 
  • Current e-cigarette use for 15 year old girls increased from 10% in 2018 to 21% (around 1 in 5) in 2021 
  • 23% of pupils who met people every day were current e-cigarette users, compared to 1% for those who never met people outside of home or school 
  • Cannabis is the drug pupils were most likely to have taken, with 6% saying they had taken it in 2021, down from 8% in 2018. Those reporting taking Class A drugs has remained at around 2-3% since 2010 
  • Of those who reported taking drugs on more than one occasion, 19% said they took drugs alone on the most recent occasion, up from 11% in 2018, and 7% in 2016 
  • 6% of pupils said they usually drank alcohol at least once a week, the same as in 2018 
  • Among those who reported drinking, 6% said they usually drank alone, an increase from 3% in 2018 
  • 46% of 15-year-old girls reported a low level of happiness, and 51% reported a high level of anxiety on the previous day.   

Read the full report  

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England, 2021