Youngsters see the danger signs as fewer try out drink and drugs

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YOUNG people appear to be heeding warnings about the dangers of drink and drugs, as a report showed the number admitting to experimenting with them had dropped in Edinburgh.

Figures from the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) for 2010 showed what authors called a “notable decrease” in the proportion of 15-year-olds who have ever tried drugs – from 26 per cent in 2006 down to 21 per cent.

The drop seems to have been helped by parents getting tough on alcohol and a rise in the legal age for buying cigarettes, from 16 to 18.

Despite this, experts warned the study could mask the dangers of young people continuing to drink to excess.

John Arthur, national director of drugs information organisation Crew2000, said the figures reflected wider trends.

He said: “There’s a kind of downward trend nationwide, but there are also figures that state that those who are drinking are drinking more.

“I think a lot of people have got the message that drinking alcohol can harm you and even relatively small amounts, so I think people are stepping back from that and are more health conscious.

“But the combination of availability, accessibility of much stronger alcohol and the relative cheapness is meaning that some people can and do drink much more.”

The study showed the proportion of 13-year-olds who had ever tried an alcoholic drink was down from 53 per cent to 41 per cent – below the national average.

The confidential study of 13-year-olds and 15-year-olds at high schools in Edinburgh found that three per cent of 13 year-olds and 13 per cent of 15-year-olds classed themselves as regular smokers – unchanged from 2006 for the 13-year-olds, and a drop of one per cent for 15-year-olds.

There was also a decrease in the number of young smokers buying their cigarettes in shops – from 84 per cent in 2006 to 58 per cent in 2010, thought to be down to age restrictions rising from 16 to 18 in 2007.

At the same time there has been an increase in the proportion being given cigarettes by friends and family.

The study suggested parents were cracking down on drinking, with the number of pupils who said they were banned from drinking at home rising from 34 per cent to 43 per cent.

Boys who drank were likely to have indulged in beer, lager or cider, while girls favoured spirits, liqueurs and alcopops.

Bori Godley, 16, a pupil at St Thomas of Aquin’s school, said she saw mixed responses to the temptation of drink and drugs among teens. She said: “I think people are quite keen to experiment. I think they do want to try it out but there are people who see it as something rebellious and people who don’t see it as much of a big deal.”

Dr Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian director of public health, said: “The results of this survey are reassuring. NHS Lothian works closely with our partner organisations to ensure that children and young people understand the risks.”

A council spokeswoman added: “It is positive that this survey shows a decline in the number of 13-15 year olds trying drink and drugs.”