Smoking and drinking among 15– and 16-year-old students are showing signs of decline, but there are concerns over challenges posed by new drugs and new addictive behaviours, according to the findings of ESPAD - the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, which were shown by the Croatian Institute of Public Health (HZJZ) this past Tuesday.

ESPAD is a survey conducted by independent research teams in more than forty European countries and a cross-national research project on adolescent substance use in the world which has been conducted for 20 years.

The latest study, published in collaboration with the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA), is based on a 2015 survey in 35 European countries, including 24 EU Member States.

"Positive developments are seen with regard to teenage smoking across the board (lifetime use, last-30-day use and daily use), against a backdrop of tobacco policy measures introduced over the last two decades

In Croatia, 38% of underage students have never smoked and 62% have reported that they have had such an experience. As many as 33% have stated that they are "current smokers".

The bad habit of daily smoking is more prevalent among boys than girls.

As many as 72% Croatian pupils have reported relatively easy access to tobacco.

When it comes to drinking, "alcohol use among adolescents in Europe remains high, but here also, time trends since 1995 show some positive developments. Lifetime use of alcohol decreased from 89% to 81% between 1995 and 2015 and last-30-day use from 56% to 47%, with a marked decrease seen in both patterns after a peak in 2003."

In Croatia, 92% of adolescents covered by the survey say they have used alcohol, 55% report the last-30-day use, and 16% of Croatian respondents say they have experienced heavy drinking in the last 30 days.

Concerning heavy episodic drinking, Croatian adolescents rank fifth in Europe, and this is more prevalent among boys than girls.

As many as 87% of Croatian pupils report relatively easy access to alcohol.

As for illicit drug use, the situation in Europe is described as stable.

"On average 18% of students reported having used an illicit drug at least once in their life, but levels varied considerably across the ESPAD countries (range: 6%–37%). Following a general upward trend between 1995 and 2003 in the prevalence of illicit drug use, this has remained largely stable since 2003. However, illicit drug use remains at high levels, with 10 countries reporting levels in excess of 25%."

Croatia's percentage, 22% of pupils having reported illegal drug use, is above the average European figure.

Cannabis is the most prevalent illicit drug in all ESPAD countries.

"On average, 16% of the students reported using cannabis at least once in their lifetime (range: 4%–37%). On average, 7% of students had used cannabis in the last 30 days (range: 1%–17%). Between 1995 and 2015, trends in cannabis use indicated a general increase in both lifetime use (11% to 17%) and last-30-day use (4% to 7%). Prevalence peaked in 2003 (19%) and slightly decreased thereafter (17%)."

In Croatia, 21% of those polled say they have used cannabis at least once in their lifetime, and 8% report use in the last 30 days.

The overall aim with the project is to repeatedly collect comparable data on substance use among 15- and 16-year-old students in as many European countries as possible.

And while overall illicit drug use is stable in this group after previous increases (1995–2003), it continues at high levels.

The study warns about rising online gaming and gambling.

With the Internet now an integral part of daily life, "the development of patterns of addictive use among children and adolescents needs to be closely monitored and investigated," states the report.

On average, students used the Internet 5.8 days per week. Girls used social media regularly more often than boys (four or more days in the last week - 83% versus 73%). Online gaming was more prevalent among boys (39% compared to 7%). In all countries, considerably more boys than girls reported a gambling experience in all forms (23% versus 5% on average) or gambling frequently (12% versus 2%) in the last year.

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