The Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has cautiously welcomed findings from the latest ‘Young Persons Behaviour & Attitudes Survey 2019: Substance Use’ bulletin but said there is no room for complacency.

The report published by the Department of Health showed that since 2000 there has been a significant decline in the proportion of young people who have ever smoked, in the proportion of current young smokers, and in the proportion of young people who drink, get drunk and use drugs. This trend has remained consistent in the most recent survey.

Dr McBride said:

“This is a welcome indication of the progress that has been made in preventing a range of key risk taking behaviour among our children and young people, and it shows that the actions we have collectively taken to date have been broadly successful in supporting young people to live healthy lives.

However, there is no room for complacency. Smoking, alcohol and drug misuse are key public health issues, for example smoking remains the main cause of preventable illness and death in Northern Ireland and kills around 2,400 people here each year.”

“In recent years there have been a number of key legislative key legislative developments which have helped prevent children from accessing tobacco products, including a ban on the display of tobacco products, a ban on selling tobacco from vending machines, and new offences and penalties for those who sell tobacco to children. These have been supported by programmes which raise children and young people’s awareness of the harms caused by tobacco. Additionally, the Public Health Agency commission youth focused smoking reduction programmes and promote smoking cessation services at a variety of youth targeted venues.”

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Whilst the numbers of children and young people reporting regular use of e-cigarettes remains low, the Department of Health continues to monitor the use of these products by children and young people. Draft legislation is being progressed with the intention of restricting the age of sale of e-cigarettes to those over 18.

The Chief Medical Officer added: “A range of service are also in place to prevent alcohol and drug use among our children and young people, and to provide treatment and support to those who come to harm from their own, or someone else’s, alcohol or drug use. But again I believe we can do more and we will shortly be bringing forward a new substance strategy for consultation and this will have a strong focus on improving our collective approach to effective preventative measures, and on providing early intervention where appropriate.”