A comprehensive national survey of secondary school students released today has shown younger students are turning away from cigarettes and alcohol but older students are still drinking at risky levels and continuing to smoke.
The 2011 Australian Secondary Students' Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) Survey asked around 25,000 students aged between 12 and 17 years about their use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. The survey, conducted every 3 years, is a collaboration between the Department of Health and Ageing at the Commonwealth, state and territory health departments as well as Cancer Councils in some states. It is led by Cancer Council Victoria's Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer.
Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper, said the survey showed preventative health policies and programs such as graphic warnings on packaging and an increase in smokefree areas had made a significant impact.
However, trends among older students indicated the need to stay the course, and for public health bodies and government to innovate to keep pace with the tobacco and alcohol industries.
"Smoking rates for secondary school students have been declining since the late1990s, which is great news, however this latest survey shows the decline has plateaued for older students," Mr Harper said.
"It's important we keep the downward pressure on smoking rates with continued tobacco control reform such as Australia's world-first plain packaging legislation so that Australian teenagers know there is nothing glamorous about such a deadly habit.
"Unsurprisingly, the top three brands smoked by youth are also the most popular brands with adults and plain packaging will go a long way in removing any brand appeal to young people," he said.
While overall use of alcohol has been declining across all age groups for the past six years (from 86% of all students in 2005 to 74% in 2011 having ever consumed alcohol), among those who have had a drink in the past 7 days, risky drinking has continued at a similar pace for the older age group – 48% of 16 to 17-year-old current drinkers had consumed more than four drinks on one occasion in the past seven days in 2011 (compared to 47% in 2008).
"We know the drinking patterns of adolescents in the final years of secondary school can be predictive of their drinking levels in the early years of adulthood, so the fact that 16 to 17-year-olds are still binge drinking at around the same level as 2008 is concerning. It means another generation is inheriting risky drinking behaviour," said Mr Harper.
"When 45% of all current drinkers aged 16-17 years say they intend to get drunk on most occasions that they drink alcohol, we urgently need to address the culture of drinking in Australia and this includes attitudes towards alcohol and better awareness of the health effects.
"The government needs to address the availability of cheap alcohol and targeted promotion of alcohol to young people particularly during live TV sport coverage, considering drinking in teenage years is linked to higher risks of alcohol dependence problems in young adulthood, and excessive consumption is, in turn, a cause of many chronic illnesses such as cancer," said Mr Harper.