Press Release

Minister Wallace announces publication of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) Report 2007

Ms Mary Wallace, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with special responsibility for Health Promotion and Food Safety announced the publication tomorrow, (26th March, 2009), of the 2007 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) Report.

The main purpose of ESPAD is to collect comparable data on substance use among 15-16 year old European Students in order to monitor trends within and between countries. The Survey is conducted every 4 years and on this occasion 35 countries, including Ireland, participated.

Main Findings

Cigarette smoking – 23% (compared to 33% in 2003) of Irish students indicated they had smoked in the last month compared to the average of 29% for all countries. Just over half of the Irish respondents in ESPAD 2007 had smoked at some time in their lives compared with 67% in 2003.

Alcohol – With regard to alcohol, ESPAD 2007 shows some positive changes compared to 2003. In the earlier (2003) survey 73% reported having consumed alcohol during the previous month compared with 58% in 2007. In 2003 92% of Irish students said they had drunk at some time in their lives while in 2007 the figure was 87%.

Illegal Substances – There has been a significant fall in the number of students who have tried cannabis at some stage in their lives which has dropped from 39% in 2003 to 20.3% in ESPAD 2007. The reported percentage of cannabis use in Ireland is about the same as the European average.

The use of solvents/inhalants fell from 18% in 2003 to 15% in 2007. However, the use of inhalants or solvents is higher in Ireland (15%) than in most European countries (9%).

“I welcome the reported reduction in cigarette smoking but the number of 16 year olds who are smoking is very worrying. The level of alcohol consumption among 16 year olds is still too high and raises the question about the acceptance of alcohol consumption as the norm in society and the message that this is giving to young people. ”Minister Wallace said.

The Irish data was collected by Dr Mark Morgan of St Patrick’s College in Dublin.

The full ESPAD 2007 Report is available on the ESPAD web site at

A separate and more detailed Report on the Irish ESPAD results is being prepared. The full Irish Report will be made available on the Department’s website next week.


Dr Mark Morgan is the researcher contracted by the Department of Health and Children to undertake the Irish element of the 2007 ESPAD Study. Any queries in relation to the content of the Press Statement can be addressed to the Departments Press Office.

Further details on the findings in relation to Irish 15-16 year old students are set out below.

Drinking Alcohol

Compared to the other European countries in ESPAD, Irish students in 2007 are about as likely to drink alcohol as the average in other countries. However, a major difference emerges in relation to being drunk: Irish students report being drunk more often than in most other countries (26% in the last month compared to a European average of 18%).

The vast majority (86%) of Irish students have experimented with alcohol by the age of 16. A large percentage had tried alcohol in their primary school years (21% in the case of beer) and 7% of students indicated that they were drunk for the first time by the age of 12. About three-quarters, (but depending on the beverage in question) thought that it would be easy for them to obtain alcoholic beverages. Irish girls are drinking almost as often as boys, and more girls (29%) than boys (25%) reported being drunk during the previous month. Girls showed a preference for alcopops, wine and spirits, whereas boys tended to drink beer and cider more often.


23% of Irish students indicated they had smoked in the last month compared to the average of 29% for all countries. In 2007, 48% of Irish students reported never having smoked, compared with 33% in 2003 and 26% in 1995. Just over half of the participants in the survey had smoked at some time in their lives. Of those who had smoked about half had their first cigarette during their primary school years (between age 9-12 years).

There were substantial gender differences, especially in the case of frequent smoking, with girls more likely to report smoking than boys. With regard to those who smoked on a daily basis, 16.7% of girls fell into this category compared to 10.7% of boys.

Illegal Substances

One in 5 of all respondents (20.3%) in ESPAD 2007 had tried cannabis, an illegal substance, at some stage in their lives. This is a significant fall from the corresponding figure of 39% in 2003. The percentage of cannabis use in Ireland is about the same as the European average (life time use of cannabis is 20% for Ireland vs. 19% for all countries). While cannabis is reported by students to be more difficult to obtain now than in the past, a sizeable 43% still believe that it is easy to get.

The use of inhalants or solvents is higher in Ireland than in most European countries (15% versus 9% for all countries combined). However, the Irish percentage is continuing the downward trend from a figure of 22% eight years ago.

Use of tranquilisers or sedatives without a doctor’s prescription is relatively low in Ireland (3%) compared to all other countries combined (6%).

Sources and locations for consumption

ESPAD 2007 provides worthwhile data on how alcohol is purchased and also the location where drinking takes place. Respondents reported that the single most common way of obtaining alcohol was to have friends or siblings buy it on their behalf. With regard to location, the most popular venue for drinking was either in their own home or at a friend’s house. It is also worth noting that an ‘uncontrolled’ setting (e.g. street corner, town park) was also a popular location for the consumption of alcohol.

The survey also provides information on the sources of getting cigarettes. The most popular way was through friends. It is also of interest that a significant minority said that they bought cigarettes in a shop or similar location; getting cigarettes from a machine was not a substantial category.

Parents’ influence and leisure activities

A number of important findings emerge from ESPAD 2007 on parenting. The perception by respondents that parents set definite rules is not an important influence. However, parental monitoring (or rather children’s perception of parental monitoring) is a major factor in preventing substance misuse – young people are very aware of their parents ‘keeping an eye’ on their activities.

Findings show that the majority of respondents spend a lot of their leisure time both on the Internet and in sporting activities (about four-fifths on a weekly basis or more often). About one third of young people read books on a regular basis and fewer than one-fifth are involved in an organised youth club. A large number of young people spend a lot of time watching TV or DVDs: over two-fifths said that they spend 3 hours or more on an average weekday doing this.