Press Release

Ministers Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Catherine Byrne Launch Ireland’s Report on the “European Schools Project on Alcohol & other Drugs in Ireland” (ESPAD)

Ministers of State Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD and Catherine Byrne TD today launched the national report “European Schools Project on Alcohol & other Drugs in Ireland” (ESPAD). ESPAD is a collaborative effort of research teams in more than forty European countries and the largest cross-national research project on adolescent substance use in the world. The overall aim of the project is to repeatedly collect comparable data on substance use among 15–16 year old students in as many European countries as possible. The project has been operating since 1995.

The launch of the results of the Irish project, undertaken on the Department of Health’s behalf by the TobaccoFree Research Institute of Ireland, coincides with the launch of the International Report of ESPAD. The Irish report is based on data from more than 1,400 Irish students aged 15 to 16 years.

In relation to tobacco, the report found that 13% of 15 to 16 year olds had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days compared with a figure of 21% in the 2011 report. “This is a very positive finding which clearly shows a significant downward trend in the number of young people starting to smoke in Ireland,” said Minister Corcoran Kennedy. “It is hard to believe that in 1995 41% of 15 to 16 year olds were considered smokers and we can be proud of the advances we have made in preventing our young people from starting to smoke. We must not be complacent, however, and we must continue our work in order to achieve a Tobacco Free Ireland”.

In relation to alcohol consumption among 15 to 16 year olds, the Report indicates that 36% had drunk alcohol in the last 30 days compared with a figure of 50% in 2011. “Again this is a very welcome decline in the numbers of young people consuming alcohol though the reasons behind the decline are unclear. However it is very worrying that the majority of these students started drinking before the age of sixteen and that minors continue to have such easy access to alcohol. I am also deeply concerned that the pattern of binge drinking is still very widespread. I am hopeful that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will provide further impetus for a continued decline in consumption, availability and accessibility of alcohol products as we know that children and adolescents are more vulnerable to alcohol-related harm than other age groups” Minister Corcoran Kennedy said.

In relation to the statistics compiled relating to drugs in Ireland, the prevalence of cannabis, inhalants and other drug use has fallen by over half since 1995 (or 1999 for inhalants), although there was an increase of one percentage point between 2011 and 2015. While smoking, drinking and drug use among Irish adolescents may be on the decline, it appears that the reduction in the use of illicit substances may possibly have halted or even begun to reverse. Minister Byrne said, “Tackling the drug problem in Ireland continues to be a priority for this Government. In this regard, a public consultation to inform the development of a new National Drugs Strategy is currently underway. A particular focus of the consultation is getting the views of young people on the measures required to tackle the issue into the future”.

The Ministers expressed their gratitude to the TobaccoFree Research Institute of Ireland who undertook the survey and in particular they thanked the fifty schools and their 1,400 students who participated in the research project. “This report and its valuable data exist because of the co-operation of these schools and their students and we would like to thank all the participants for taking the time from their busy schedules to respond to the surveys” said Minister Corcoran Kennedy.

Both the Ministers of State expressed confidence that the continued implementation of public health policies as set out in Tobacco Free Ireland, the National Substance Misuse Policy and the development of a new Drugs Strategy will have continued positive effects on the behaviours of young people when it comes to smoking, consuming alcohol or taking drugs.

The ESPAD project is just one of a number of surveys relating to lifestyle behaviours that the Department of Health is engaged in as part of the Healthy Ireland Agenda.

ESPAD 2015: European Schools Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs in Ireland