Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use among French adolescents has seen a significant decrease over the last decade, according to a new study from the World Health Organization.
The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study found that, while while alcohol remains the most frequently used substance by French adolescents, with 2 out of 3 ninth-grade students admitting to consuming alcohol at some point in 2021, this figure is the lowest recorded since 2010.
While the period directly following the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 had a major impact on the number, 60% of the total decrease in this period actually occurred between 2018 and 2021.
And, most strikingly, the percentage of ninth-grade students who had never consumed alcohol doubled in the last decade.
“These positive trends show how young people’s social interactions can affect harmful substance abuse, as well as the power of targeted policies and campaigns,” said Dr Emmanuelle Godeau, one of the lead investigators for the survey.
“The continuous decline in the use of tobacco and alcohol among adolescents in France is also the result of successful public policies and strategies, including the denormalization of smoking.”
It is actually with smoking that the results of the survey are most significant.
The study found the proportion of adolescents who had ever smoked tobacco cigarettes (at least once in their lifetime) was a little over 29.1% in 2021, compared to 37.5% in 2018 and nearly 52% in 2010.
Similarly, the proportion of current use of cigarettes (at least 1 cigarette in the past 30 days) dropped from 13.6% in 2018 to 10.2% in 2021.
Like tobacco and alcohol, cannabis use is also declining rapidly. In 2021, 9.1% of students in ninth grade experimented with it–almost three times less than in 2010 (23.9%).
“The findings show how the pandemic has accelerated a downward trend in the use of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis among French youngsters,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge.
“This shows both the importance of smart policies and the role that our environments play in shaping our behaviours. At the same time, the results raise the question of how far the pandemic has affected young people’s overall health; it is crucial that policy-makers continue to study these effects, whether beneficial or harmful to people’s health.”
The HBSC study is a cross-national study of the health and well-being of adolescents across Europe and Canada, conducted in close collaboration with WHO/Europe. The survey is undertaken every 4 years for 11-, 13-, and 15-year-olds.
The survey in France was part of a series of national surveys conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic in countries across the Region—more of which WHO/Europe will release over the next months.