Fewer US teens smoke, drink than European peers: study

Posted at 06/02/2012 8:46 AM | Updated as of 06/06/2012 11:10 AM

WASHINGTON - Fewer teenagers in the United States smoke and drink compared to their European counterparts, but more use drugs, according to a University of Michigan study released Friday.

Using data from 36 European countries plus the United States, researchers found that 27% of US adolescents had consumed alcohol in the month prior to being quizzed by pollsters, compared to 57% of Europeans.

Twelve percent of American teens had smoked tobacco, compared to 20% for the Europeans, according to the study, the fifth of its kind since 1995 with a total of 100,000 students aged 15 and 16 taking part.

"One of the reasons that smoking and drinking rates among adolescents are so much lower here than in Europe is that both behaviors have been declining and have reached historically low levels in the United States," lead author Lloyd Johnston said.

"But even in the earlier years of the European surveys, drinking and smoking by American adolescents was quite low by comparison," he said, adding however that "use of illicit drugs is quite a different matter."

Eighteen percent of the Americans had used marijuana or hashish, a proportion exceeded in Europe only in France (24%) and Monaco (21%).

On average, only 7% of young Europeans had used either substance.

Relatively easy access to marijuana and little awareness of its dangers explain the figures, according to the responses that researchers collected from survey participants.

The Americans were also the biggest users of all other drugs besides marijuana -- such as LSD, ecstasy and amphetamines -- at 16%, compared to 6% across Europe.

"Clearly the United States has attained relatively low rates of use for cigarettes and alcohol, though not as low as we would like," Johnston said. "But the level of illicit drug use by adolescents is still exceptional here."

Some 15,400 teenagers in the United States took part in the survey, along with at least 2,400 counterparts in each of the 36 European nations, the University of Michigan said in a statement.

© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse