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Young Australians give drugs and alcohol a miss, vaping on the rise

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“My mum said to me ‘your friends don’t black out and throw up and pass out as much as we used to’,” Ms Beaumont said.

“If my friends do that too often, I stop going out with them, because it’s annoying … Most of my friends do everything in moderation, but we still go out and have fun.”

Michael Farrell, director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW, said young Australians were behaving in line with an international trend and that researchers were unsure what lay behind the shift.

“Younger people today are more physically active, gym-going and health and wellbeing focused,” Professor Farrell said.

He said the shift towards socialising online over gaming and social media platforms may also be a factor.

Hello Sunday Morning chief executive Andy Moore said young people were drinking less “because they want to live more” and reducing alcohol consumption was socially and economically “empowering”, enabling friendship networks to be built that “do not rely on drinking.”

The survey also found youth drove an increase in the use of electronic cigarettes, which rose from 8.8 per cent of Australians in 2016 to 11.3 in 2019.

A three-year decline in cigarette smoking from 12.2 per cent to 11 per cent was attributed to young people not taking up tobacco, with almost 97 per cent of respondents aged under 18 reporting they had never smoked tobacco.

Among 13-to-24-year-olds, 64 per cent of cigarette smokers and 20 per cent of non-smokers had tried vaping.

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Ms Beaumont said while her parents drank at home regularly, she only did so when she went out.

Just 1.2 per cent of 20-to-29-year-olds drank alcohol daily, the survey found, compared with 12.6 per for people aged over 70.

Professor Farrell said this trend was putting older Australians’ health at risk if they were not restricting their consumption to one glass per day, which was uncommon.

The survey also found cocaine use at its highest level in 18 years, with the number of people reporting they took the drug in the previous 12 months hitting 4.2 per cent in 2019, up from just 1 per cent in 2004.

Use of drugs such as ecstasy, cannabis and ketamine also increased, while consumption of the methamphetamine known as ice remained stable.

People aged in their 40s were the most likely to have used an illicit drug their lifetime, 55 per cent, in 2019, the survey found.

The proportion of women who drank alcohol while pregnant fell from 44 per cent in 2016 to 35 per cent in 2019, with 55 per cent drinking before finding out they were pregnant and 14.5 per cent once they knew they were pregnant (down from 25 per cent in 2016).

Australian Drug Foundation chief executive Erin Lalor said the fact that almost a third of women still drank while pregnant meant more work needed to be done to educate women of child-bearing age about the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

“We need to get to the point where no pregnant women are drinking alcohol,” Dr Lalor said.

State, territory, federal and New Zealand ministers are due to vote on the food safety regulator’s proposed new pregnancy warning label for alcohol bottles on Friday.

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Sanchia Aranda said “a revival of hard-hitting
anti-smoking campaigns” was also needed to further drive down smoking rates.

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