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Fewer young people in Northern Ireland turning to drink, drugs and cigarettes


‘Smoking is killing 2,400 people here each year ’

‘Smoking is killing 2,400 people here each year ’

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‘Smoking is killing 2,400 people here each year ’

Health experts have welcomed a new report showing that fewer younger people in Northern Ireland are smoking or abusing alcohol or drugs.

The number of 11 to 16-year-olds who have tried cigarettes has dropped considerably in the past two decades.

In 2019 one in 10 young people reported they had smoked at some stage in their life, with 4% indicating that they currently smoked - a decrease since 2000, when two-fifths (37%) reported they had smoked and 15% were current smokers.

Boys (11%) were more likely to report ever having smoked than girls (8%), the Department of Health report, released yesterday, showed.

Young people living in the most deprived areas were more likely to smoke (13%) than those in the least deprived areas (7%).

The majority of young people (95%) were aware of e-cigarettes, with a fifth saying they had used one at least once.

In 2019 half as many young people reported ever having had an alcoholic drink (29%) than in 2000 (59%). Only 5% reported ever using drugs, with boys (6%) more likely to report having used drugs than girls (3%).

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride gave a cautious welcome to the findings.

"This is an indication of the progress that has been made. However, there is no room for complacency," he said.

"Smoking, alcohol and drug misuse are key public health issues. Smoking remains the main cause of preventable illness and death in Northern Ireland and kills around 2,400 people here each year.

"While the number of children and young people reporting regular use of e-cigarettes remains low, the Department of Health continues to monitor the use of these products by children and young people.

"Draft legislation is being progressed with the intention of restricting the age of sale of e-cigarettes to over-18s."

Commissioner for Children and Young People Koulla Yiasouma said that while the figures offered reassurance, further work was needed.

"I am reassured to see that education and information are having a positive impact on young people," she added.

"But the survey highlights the relatively new phenomena of e-cigarettes and reminds us that further work is needed to understand their use and, in particular, their effect on children and young people."

Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention at Cancer Focus NI, said the progress over the last 20 years was positive, but he urged Health Minister Robin Swann to address smoking in cars carrying children.

"Cancer Focus NI has been working diligently in education as well as in the wider community, but there is still work to do," he explained.

"We call on the Health Minister to seek immediate Assembly approval to implement the legislation restricting smoking in cars carrying children.

"Draft regulations were consulted on as long ago as 2017."

Belfast Telegraph