Youth alcohol, e-cigarette use ‘alarming’: WHO

April 25, 2024

The World Health Organization is sounding the alarm on the use of alcohol and e-cigarettes in adolescents, calling the widespread use “alarming” in a new analysis.

The WHO, in a report published Thursday, said their findings show a “concerning picture” of substance use in youth, according to data from age groups 11, 13 and 15.

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among adolescents, with more than half — 57 percent — of 15-year-olds having tried alcohol at least once, per the report. This trend is slightly higher in girls when compared to boys — 59 percent to 56 percent.

About 37 percent of adolescents across all age groups reported alcohol consumption in the past 30 days, the report added.

About 1 in 10, or 9 percent, of adolescents of all age groups said they experienced significant drunkenness, with that rate increasing with age. The rate climbs from 5 percent at age 13 to 20 percent at age 15, while the incidence of drunkenness within the past 30 days jumps from 5 percent among 13-year-olds to 15 percent among those aged 15.

WHO said the findings demonstrate how “available and normalized alcohol” is for young people and called for improved policy measures to prevent harm.

“The long-term consequences of these trends are significant, and policy-makers cannot afford to ignore these alarming findings,” WHO wrote.

E-cigarettes are now more popular than conventional cigarettes, per the report. Nearly 32 percent of 15-year-olds reported e-cigarette use at some point, a number that is 7 percentage points higher than the 25 percent of 15-year-olds who have smoked a conventional cigarette.

Slightly more 13-year-old individuals have smoked an e-cigarette compared to conventional cigarettes — 16 percent versus 11 percent.

As for cannabis, 12 percent of 15-year-olds reported at least one-time use of the substance, a slight drop since 2018, when 14 percent reported use.

“The widespread use of harmful substances among children in many countries across the European Region – and beyond – is a serious public health threat,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

The WHO, the Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey looks at the health behavior of 11, 13 and 15-year-olds, and features a section on substance use.