Alcohol and tobacco still part of growing up

Most 11 to 15-year-olds get access to drink and cigarettes through third parties Keystone

Swiss schoolchildren’s consumption of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis has remained stable in the past four years, despite prevention measures, nationwide figures reveal.

This content was published on March 29, 2011 - 21:31
Clare O'Dea, swissinfo.ch

One in four 15-year-old boys and 13 per cent of their female classmates consume alcohol at least once a week, according to Addiction Info Switzerland, which carried out the latest survey.

Research project leader Emmanual Kuntsche told swissinfo.ch that the levelling-off  in tobacco and alcohol use was not a positive sign.

“Especially as we saw the implementation of a lot of structural measures in the past four years; it was our hope that these measures would lead to a steep decrease which was not the case,” he said.

Kuntsche was particularly discouraged not to see a decline in tobacco consumption, considering the high price of cigarettes and a smoking ban that came into force last year.

“Why this [lack of decline] is so is difficult to assess, it largely depends on youth culture in this country and therefore we have to have other data like trend scouts to really know.”

Promotion

 

“We are implementing a lot of prevention measures but it is not working as we would wish,” Kuntsche added, pointing out that the promotion budget of the alcohol and tobacco industries was enormous compared to the resources devoted to prevention.

“There are companies who actively want to instigate consumption among young people. They have their own campaigns and their own strategies.”

The research is part of World Health Organization-led survey covering more than 40, mostly European, countries. Entitled “Health Behaviour in School-aged Children”, the research programme has been capturing a cross-section of behaviour of 11 to 15 year olds every four years since 1986.

Switzerland was below average for alcohol and tobacco use for this age group in 2006 but second from the top in cannabis consumption.

The full set of international figures will not be available until the end of this year but based on the stagnation seen in cannabis use, Kuntsche said it seemed unlikely other countries would overtake Switzerland on the cannabis chart.

While 71 per cent of the Swiss children surveyed said they had never tried cannabis, seven per cent did admit to regular use of the drug – the rate was higher for  boys (9.7 per cent) than for girls (five per cent). A third of 15-year-old boys and a quarter of girls had tried cannabis at least once.

Fifteen-year-old Janine from Bern told swissinfo.ch that she did not use cannabis herself, “but I know plenty of people who use it from time to time”.

She saw a bigger problem with the drinking habits of some of her peers. “At the weekend, we all drink, quite a lot. I have my limits but there are some girls you have to bring home and that’s not so cool.”

Experiment

 

Janine tried out smoking for a while when she was 13 – “because of the people I was hanging out with” – but then stopped and hasn’t smoked since.

Her 17-year-old friend who didn’t want to give her name was enjoying a lunchtime cigarette when she spoke to swissinfo.ch. 

“I started smoking at 13 because I was with a bad circle of friends and I’m still a smoker, but mainly socially. I’ve set myself a target that I’ll stop whenever I’m pregnant and that still stands,” she laughed.

Beer is the drink of choice for young drinkers, followed by spirits and alcopops. One in three of the 15-year-olds surveyed said they had drunk five alcoholic drinks or more in one sitting at least three times in the past month.

Sixteen-year-old Gabriel told swissinfo.ch it was normal for 15-year-olds to drink. “I drink beer every second or third day, about one litre at a time, and more at the weekend,” he said, adding that he paid for cigarettes and beer with his pocket money.

Asked about the health dangers of smoking, Gabriel said he couldn’t care less. “I’m going to die anyway.”

Motivation

The main reasons given for smoking and drinking in the survey were “because it’s fun” and “to have a better time at a party”. A significant proportion of young people also gave coping or mood-related reasons for their behaviour.

“There are two distinct groups, we know from the research we are doing,” Kuntsche explained.

“On the one hand you have those who are searching for extreme sensations, for fun, and alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are likely to be part of these fun-seeking experiences.

“The other group is people with problems, and psychoactive substances can be effective in the short term to get rid of these problems, to just give them a lift or help them forget about their situation.”

Kuntsche sees this group as “worrisome” because they risk falling into a vicious cycle. “It’s a real challenge to identify this group and motivate them to look for other possibilities to cope with their problems using more productive means.”

As for procuring these substances that are widely consumed by the rest of society, the underage customers seem to have little difficulty in doing so.

More than half of the fifteen-year-olds questioned were able to buy their cigarettes over the counter, while the rest got them through friends, dispensing machines or asked someone else to buy them for them.

Those who consumed alcohol mostly found it at parties, through friends, siblings or their parents. Less than one in five managed to buy alcohol in a shop or bar.

Addiction Info Switzerland is calling for better supervision of the sale of alcohol and tobacco throughout the country and is pushing for test-buying to be incorporated into federal alcohol law which is currently under revision.

Key findings

27% of boys aged 15 drink alcohol at least once a week (2006: 25%)

13% of girls drink alcohol at least once a week (2006: 17%)

35% of boys and 30% of girls aged 15 engaged in binge drinking (5 drinks+) more than once in the previous month

Most children aged 11 (90%) and 13 (69%) have never tried tobacco

The proportion flips for the 15-year-old age group, only 44% of whom have never tried smoking

9% of 13-year-old and 25% of 15-year-olds said they smoked

17% of 15-year-olds smoke at least once a week

12% of 15-year-olds and 2% of 13-year-olds say they smoke every day

71% of 15-year-olds have never tried cannabis

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Smoking in Switzerland

On May 1, 2010, a law banning smoking in public spaces, including bars and restaurants, schools, hospitals and shopping malls, came into force across the country.

The proportion of smokers in the general population had dropped to 23 per cent in 2007 but is now stagnating.

There is no national legislation limiting the age at which cigarettes can be sold. Age limits are in force in 17 cantons. Canton Vaud was the first to set an age limit of 18 and Lucerne was the first to fix a limit of 16.

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