Number of young people smoking in North West falls to record low
• 2023 Trading Standards North West youth survey shows tobacco smoking among 14-17 year olds has reached its lowest ever level – 6% of respondents (down from 22% in 2007).
• Alcohol consumption has fallen with almost half of young people surveyed (48%) now saying they never drink.
A new survey released today (Thursday, April 20) has found that the number of young people in the North West of England who smoke is down to 6% - the lowest level recorded.
The findings also show that levels of binge drinking among the region’s underage drinkers has fallen. In 2007, almost three in 10 (29%) of 14 – 17 year olds described themselves as regular binge drinkers, compared to 8% today.
Trading Standards North West surveyed almost 14,000 14-17 year olds in the region to evaluate changing attitudes and behaviours towards drinking, smoking, vaping, shisha and knives. The survey is carried out every two – three years in the North West and distributed through schools in the region.
It uncovered a shift in behaviours among young people in comparison to the 2007 report, when just 17% said they never drink, compared to nearly half (48%) today.
However that still leaves 52% of 14-17 year olds who do drink alcohol which can affect the developing body and brain, affect performance at school and is associated with more risk taking behaviour.
While smoking and drinking levels continue to fall, there has been an increase in the numbers of young people vaping. Fourteen per cent claim to vape more than once a week, compared to 6% in 2020. Respondents said that flavours are a key factor in tempting them to vape.
Trading Standards North West is responsible for ensuring that businesses in the region comply with laws prohibiting the sale of underage products to individuals below the legal age limit.
Despite positive trends, it recognises that there is still a long way to go to stop dangerous products like tobacco which kill more than half of long-term users, ending up in the hands of young people in the region.
Lisa Seamark is the Lead for Underage Sales at Trading Standards North West. She commented: “It is positive to see that the national trend in lower numbers of young people smoking and drinking is reflected in our survey findings in the North West. We know that progress has been made when it comes to driving down underage sales of tobacco and alcohol, but we can’t be complacent. There is still much more that can be done to protect young people from tobacco and alcohol, which can cause significant harm at a crucial time in their development.
“The rise in youth vaping is concerning and our findings show that disposables are by far the most used type of vapes amongst young people in the region. Almost 4 in 10 young people are buying e-cigarettes from shops and enforcement action will be taken against retailers who continue to sell to under 18s.
“Selling any age-restricted product to someone underage is a criminal offence and while we know that the vast majority of retailers are doing the right thing, it’s vital that everyone understands the law and plays their part in protecting young people. If you have any concerns, please report them by calling the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133.”
The 2023 survey highlighted an increase in the percentage of young people claiming to buy alcohol from shops. It also found that between the ages of 12 and 14 are key ages to focus efforts on discouraging young people from trying and starting smoking.
John Herriman, Chief Executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) said: “This latest news from Trading Standards North West just illustrates the impact of dedicated trading standards teams who continue to go above and beyond in engaging with local communities to raise awareness of the dangers of underage smoking and binge drinking.
“The data however does show an alarming increase in the number of young people vaping, which remains a significant concern for CTSI and the profession. The recent commitment from Government to fund Trading Standards will be put to good use to try and stop this increasing trend and to ensure that businesses comply with the law which prevents them selling vapes to those under the age of 18.”
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “The Trading Standards North West survey of youth use of age restricted products is a very useful reminder that we need to be worried about use of all age restricted products, not just e-cigarettes, but also alcohol, tobacco and knives. Although carried out more recently than the 2022 ASH survey and with an older age group and in schools rather than online, this survey of young people in the North West shows a similar and worrying increase in vaping among young people. The Minister should take note as these results reinforce the need for government to act to toughen regulations on vaping sooner rather than later.”
Tough action on sales of age restricted products to young people is welcomed by retailers, including Co-op.
Andrew Leaper, Co-op, Retail Safety Manager, said: “As a responsible retailer, Co-op works rigorously to reduce the risk of under-age sales and its pleasing to see that rates of smoking and drinking among young people continues to go down. There is always more that can be done, and it is important that all retailers in our communities comply with the law and do all they can to keep children safe from harm from the damaging effects of underage drinking and smoking.”
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