UK girls vaping, smoking and drinking more than boys, study shows

The World Health Organiztion (WHO) has revealed that young girls in the UK are vaping, smoking and drinking more than boys.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that young girls in the UK are vaping, smoking and drinking more than boys.

This comes after the findings of Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) were published, a WHO collaborative cross-national study. Some have called this the ‘largest study of its kind’.

The study analysed data from 280,000 children aged 11, 13 and 15 from 44 different countries who were asked about their use of cigarettes, vapes and alcohol.

The findings revealed that the UK has a widespread issue of underage vaping compared to other countries. In addition, child alcohol use in England is the highest in the world.

Data from the study includes:

  • Two fifths of UK girls have vaped by the age of 15. This is higher than a number of developed countries including France, Germany, Spain and Canada
  • In the past 30 days around 30% of 15-year-old girls and 17% of 15-year-old boys in England had vaped
  • UK 11 and 13 year olds are more likely to have drunk alcohol compared with any other country
  • Children in Scotland and Wales are more likely to have smoked cannabis compared to most countries.

Girls experiencing ‘lower life satisfaction’

Professor Sally Kendall, from the University of Kent, worked on the study. She believes that a ‘societal change towards girl power’ and a ‘narrowing of stereotypical gender behaviours such as alcohol use’ could be behind the reason more girls are vaping, smoking and drinking than boys.

She said: What our data shows is that alongside the alcohol, smoking and vaping behaviour is that girls are also experiencing a lower life satisfaction, greater sense of loneliness and a lower sense of wellbeing than boys.

‘Our wider analysis also indicates that these factors are associated with low family affluence, so girls from poorer families are also likely to respond more negatively.

‘This suggests there is a more holistic understanding of health behaviours needed than simply girls smoking or drinking more than boys.’

Dr Jo Inchley is the international coordinator for the study. She believes that two biggest concerns raised by the study are vaping in the UK is higher than elsewhere in Europe and that UK vaping trends appear to be worsening ‘quite substantially’ over a short period of time.

She added: ‘The big concerns are around vaping, but also there’s some evidence that alcohol use might be going up again, amongst girls in England in particular. And we’re seeing that across some other European countries as well.

‘So that’s quite interesting to explore as well, particularly, I think, in terms of COVID and post-COVID recovery and the impact that COVID has had on particularly that sort of age group.’

She also suggested that this could be linked to the mental health of the children who went through the pandemic.

Creating a ‘smoke-free generation’

A UK government spokesperson said: ‘The health advice is clear – smoking, vaping and underage drinking can be damaging for young people and their development. That is why there are age restrictions on the sale of these products.

‘As a government, we are creating the UK’s first smoke-free generation.

‘Our landmark Tobacco and Vapes Bill will make it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born after 1 January 2009 and includes powers to limit flavours, packaging and displays of vapes to reduce the appeal to children.’

This comes after the House of Commons voted in favour of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s smoking ban by 383 votes to 67. Those who voted against the bill included 57 of Sunak’s Conservative MPs.

Parliament’s vote in favour of the bill brings the smoking ban a step closer to becoming law. However, it still needs to face a number of further stages, including passing the House of Lords.

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