NHS Digital News

06 Sep 2022

Decrease in smoking and drug use among school children but increase in vaping, new report shows

NHS Digital must be quoted as the source of these figures . Regional data available in this report  

New figures from NHS Digital show a decrease in numbers of school children taking drugs and smoking cigarettes but a rise in vaping, with 9% of 11 to 15 year olds currently using e-cigarettes. 

The number of young people vaping has increased, with 9% of secondary school pupils currently (either regularly or occasionally) using e-cigarettes in 2021, an increase from 6% in 20181, statistics published today show.


The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England, 2021 report2 also found that cigarette smoking has decreased, 3% of pupils were current smokers, a decline from 5% in 2018. In addition, 12% reported having ever smoked, a decrease from 16% in 2018, and the lowest level ever recorded. 

The report contains results from a biennial survey of secondary school pupils in England years 7-11 (mostly aged 11-15), focusing on smoking, drinking and drug use. 

Cigarette smoking

The number of young people taking drugs has also decreased, 18% of pupils reported having ever taken drugs, a decline from 24% in 2018. 12% of pupils said they had taken drugs in the last year, down from 17% in 2018.


New analysis around the impact of Covid3 is included in this report, including how pupil’s took part in school learning in the last school year (September 2020 to July 2021) and how often they met others outside of school and home.    

Pupils who frequently met up with people outside their school or home, were more likely to have recently smoked, drunk alcohol or taken drugs.  

Of pupils who met with people every day, 9% were current smokers, 12% usually drank alcohol once a week, and 19% had taken drugs in the last month. For pupils who had never met other people in the last four weeks, these proportions fell to 1%, 2%, and 2% respectively. 

The report also looks at wellbeing, with pupils asked questions around life satisfaction, happiness, and anxiety. 

Low levels of life satisfaction4 were experienced by 57% of young people who had recently smoked, drank alcohol and taken drugs. This compared to 35% who had recently done just one of these things, and 18% who had not recently smoked, drank or taken drugs.      

Other statistics included in the report revealed:   

  • Regular smokers who are also regular e-cigarette users more than doubled, from 29% of regular smokers in 2018 to 61% in 2021 
  • 18% of all 15 year olds were current e-cigarette users 
  • Current e-cigarette use for 15 year old girls increased from 10% in 2018 to 21% (around 1 in 5) in 2021 
  • 23% of pupils who met people every day were current e-cigarette users, compared to 1% for those who never met people outside of home or school 
  • Cannabis is the drug pupils were most likely to have taken, with 6% saying they had taken it in 2021, down from 8% in 2018. Those reporting taking Class A drugs has remained at around 2-3% since 2010 
  • Of those who reported taking drugs on more than one occasion, 19% said they took drugs alone on the most recent occasion, up from 11% in 2018, and 7% in 2016 
  • 6% of pupils said they usually drank alcohol at least once a week, the same as in 2018 
  • Among those who reported drinking, 6% said they usually drank alone, an increase from 3% in 2018 
  • 46% of 15-year-old girls reported a low level of happiness, and 51% reported a high level of anxiety on the previous day.   

Read the full report  

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England, 2021 

Contact Information

NHS England Media Team
0300 303 3888

Notes to editors

  1. The last Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England 2018 report was published in 2019 
  2. The current report contains results from the latest survey conducted by Ipsos UK of secondary school pupils in England in years 7 to 11 (mostly aged 11 to 15), focusing on smoking, drinking and drug use. Between September 2021 and February 2022 9,289 pupils in England were surveyed across 119 schools. The survey covers a range of topics including prevalence, habits, attitudes, and wellbeing. This survey is usually run every two years, however, due to impact that the Covid pandemic had on school opening and attendance, it was not possible to run the survey as initially planned in 2020; instead it was delivered in the 2021 school year.  
  3. In 2021 additional questions were also included relating to the impact of Covid. They covered how pupil's took part in school learning in the last school year, and how often pupil's met other people outside of school and home.  
  4. Pupils were asked to rank their feelings to the question ‘Overall, how satisfied are you with life nowadays?’ from 0 to 10. A score of 0 to 4 was reported as ‘low life satisfaction’. 
  5. E-cigarette (vaping) prevalence is categorised by: Regular users (defined as usually using an e-cigarette at least once per week); Occasional users (defined as using an e-cigarette sometimes but less than once per week); or Non-users (including those who reported using them just once or twice in total). Current users include both regular and occasional users. 
  6. Cigarette smoking prevalence is categorised by: Regular smokers (defined as usually smoking at least one cigarette per week); Occasional smokers (defined as usually smoking less than one cigarette per week); Non-smokers. The term ‘current smoker’ used in this report includes regular and occasional smokers. 
  7. Several breakdowns of alcohol drinking prevalence are captured. The two main measures of prevalence used in the report are:  Ever had an alcoholic drink and Drank alcohol in the last week. In addition, most of the analysis for young people who drink alcohol is based on ‘current’ drinkers: pupils who drink at least a few times a year.  
  8. Drug prevalence is measured by: Ever taken drugs, Taken drugs in the last year and Taken drugs in the last month. 
  9. The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use survey is usually conducted under exam conditions by an external interviewer, however due to the pandemic and Covid restrictions on school visitors schools were offered the option of an external interviewer or running the survey themselves with guidance. This is the first time this survey has been conducted via a school led method and the responses for school led and interviewer led have been combined. However, it should be noted that girls were more likely to declare risky behaviours when the school led the survey rather than an external interviewer, in particular for smoking, e-cigarette use and ever drunk alcohol.

NHS Digital merged with NHS England on 1 February 2023. The NHS has been redesigned around the creation of integrated care systems, and this requires a redesign at the centre of the NHS in England. Data and technology power our NHS. They are crucial to:

  • working in more efficient ways
  • improving diagnosis and treatment
  • understanding and improving our services

This merger will reduce duplication, bringing the NHS’s national data and technology expertise together into one organisation. This will allow us to collaborate more effectively and to empower local organisations to benefit from data and technology, supporting the best care for patients.

For media enquiries please email media@nhsdigital.nhs.net or call 0300 30 33 888.