- The decline in smoking has halted in Irish teens for the first time in 25 years (14%), and has significantly increased to 16% in boys while declining slightly to 13.6 in girls
- Dramatic increase in e-cigarette use, especially among boys 39% have tried AND 16% are current users
- Slight increase in drinking and heavy episodic ‘binge’ drinking
- Almost 1 in 5 has tried cannabis and 1 in 10 is a current user
- More than a third spend more than 6 hours on non-school days on social media
- Boys (23%) more likely than girls (7%) to have gambled
Smoking Smoking remains a notable issue for adolescents. 32% of respondents had tried smoking and 14% were current smokers, with 5% smoking daily. The majority (63%) of students reported starting to smoke at age 14 or 15. Equally, the majority (61%) reported that it was easy to access cigarettes. Our trend analyses showed that, despite a reduction of over two thirds since 1995, more students reported smoking in 2019 than in 2015, and this was pronounced for boys.
E-Cigarettes Almost four in 10 students (39%) had tried e-cigarettes and almost one in 6 (16%) were current users, making both ever-use and current use of e-cigarettes higher than use of combustible cigarettes. Boys (46%) were more likely than girls (33%) to have tried e-cigarettes and also to be current users (22% vs 12%). Only 3% said that it was “to stop smoking cigarettes”. More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) had never smoked cigarettes, and only 9% smoked regularly when first using e-cigarette
Professor Luke Clancy, Director General of the TFRI said “this increase in smoking, which had been declining for 25 years, is major concern and a serious threat to Tobacco Free Ireland 2025 “We are currently examining the reasons for this increase”, he said, “including the role of e-cigarettes”.
Alcohol Some 73% of respondents had tried alcohol and 41% were current users (previous 30 days), while 16% reported having been drunk in the previous 30 days. As in previous surveys, age 15 years (52%) was the most common age at which students first drank alcohol, followed by age 14 (28%). Since 1995, when Ireland first participated in ESPAD, there has been a significant reduction in alcohol consumption among students aged 15-16 years. However, our trend analyses in this wave indicate that, since 2015, there has been a slight increase in current alcohol use and also in heavy episodic drinking.
Cannabis Cannabis was the most-used illicit drug with almost one student in 5 (19%) having tried cannabis and almost one in 10 (9%) having used it in the previous 30 days. Boys were more likely than girls to be users, and girls were more likely to perceive risk in regular or occasional cannabis use. More boys (22%) than girls (13%) had also tried unsuccessfully to stop using cannabis. Access to cannabis was reported as fairly or very easy by 42% of students.
Other substances (inhalants, cocaine, ecstasy)
Our trend analyses showed that, between 2015 and 2019, there were no changes in the use of cannabis, inhalants and tranquilizers. However, we observed a decrease in the use of illicit drugs other than cannabis.
Gambling Boys much more likely to have gambled – betting on sports or animals was the most common gambling activity. The majority (84%) of respondents had not gambled in the previous 12 months. Gambling is a particularly gendered activity. More boys (23%) than girls (7%) reported that they had gambled in the previous 12 months. The Lie/Bet questionnaire, a two-question screening tool was used to evaluate problem gambling behaviour. Of those who had gambled in the previous 12 months (n=300), 26% reported that they had felt the need to bet more and more money, and 12% reported that they had to lie to people important to them about how much they gambled.
Internet and gaming activities Among 15-16 year olds, more than a third spend more than 6 hours on social media on non-school days.
More than a third of respondents (37%) spent 2-3 hours on social media on a typical school day, and even more (39%) spent more than 6 hours on social media on a typical non-school day. Significant gender differences were observed for non-school day internet use with girls (98%) spending more hours on social media than boys (96%) did. Problem internet use was assessed with three item statements and a majority of students either strongly agreed (26%) or partly agreed (37%) that they spend too much time on social media. Regarding gaming, during the previous 30 days. 44% spent some time playing games on a school day and 56% spent some time playing games on a typical non-school day. More boys (84%) than girls (29%) spent time playing games on a typical non-school day
Dr Joan Hanafin, Director of Social Research, TFRI said, “Taken together, these findings provide strong evidence of the greater risk-taking among adolescent boys that has been identified in 30 years of research on men and masculinities. It is important that health education programmes take account of gender differences in substance use and of boys’ gambling patterns.”
Trends visible in Irish data
In the past 25 years, ESPAD surveys of 15-16-year olds in Ireland have reported major reductions in alcohol consumption, smoking and the use of many substances. The largest reductions have been in the use of illicit drugs which, fell by 69% and in cigarette smoking which fell by 66%. In the same period there has been a 41% decrease in alcohol consumption and a 30% reduction in heavy episodic [‘binge’] drinking. Across Europe, smoking and drinking among 15–16-year-old school students are showing signs of decline. The Irish study, carried out for the Department of Health, in collaboration with ESPAD Europe and the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA), is based on a 2019 survey of 1967 students born in 2003. This is the seventh data-collection wave conducted by the ESPAD project since 1995, with data collected every 4 years in more than 35 countries.
The full and summary reports are available to download at www.tri.ie