Paris | The number of teenagers trying alcohol or cigarettes before they turn 14 has dropped, especially among girls, according to a World Health Organization study of 42 well-off nations.
From 2010 to 2014, the percentage of 15-year-old boys in Europe, Canada and Israel who said they’d smoked their first cigarette at 13 fell from 26 to 22 among boys – but plunged from 22 to 13 for girls. Alcohol use among young teens in the 42 countries canvassed also went down over the same period, by about 10 per cent.
But when it came to boozing, the percentage of 13-and- under girls who indulged weekly – while still smaller than for boys – did not decline as much, narrowing the gender gap. Health behaviours along with social habits and attitudes acquired in the critical second decade of a young person’s life can carry on into adulthood and affect the entire life-course, said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.
A good start can last a lifetime, she said in a statement. Conducted every four years, the survey examines self- perception and risky behaviour among 11-, 13- and 15-year olds. Greenland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and the Czech Republic topped the list of young smokers in 2014, with 38 to 56 per cent of boys, and 36 to 53 per cent of girls, saying they had already lit up by age 13. The countries with the lowest rates of reported tobacco use at the same age were Iceland, Albania, Canada, Norway and Spain. In Europe, 16 per cent of all deaths in adults over 30 are due to tobacco – the highest rate of all WHO regions.
Studies have shown that exposure to nicotine during adolescence can have lasting effect on brain development. Most countries have taken steps to discourage teens from smoking, including banning point-of-sale displays, aggressive public service campaigns, and stiff taxes. France, Ireland and Britain are also moving toward plain packaging. Bulgaria tops the list for regular drinking among early teens, with 13 and 20 per cent of 13-year-old girls and boys respectively saying they consume alcohol at least one a week.
By age 15, those percentages have climbed to 17 and 32 respectively. Romania, Albania, Croatia, Greece and Italy fill out the top of the list, while Norway, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands and Spain have the most abstemious adolescents. When it came to getting flat-out drunk, Denmark topped the ranking of 15-year-olds – nearly 40 per cent – who had been plastered at least twice, with Hungary, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Scotland rounding out the top five.
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