France: Understanding Substance Use in Youth
The French Observatory for Drugs and Addiction (OFDT) issued a new report on substance use trends among French youth. Accordingly smoking cigarettes and cannabis is decreasing in popularity while vaping is increasing. Alcohol use, however, is also still popular with French youth.
The national survey obtained data from 20,000 youth between 11 to 18 years.
- Overall smoking has decreased to 21.2% compared to 27.8 percent in 2014.
- Initiation to smoking begins in secondary school and increases with age.
- A noticeable increase in smoking happens between Years 8 (ages 12-13) and 9 (13-14) when the figure jumps from 14% to 26.1%.
- Overall cannabis use has decreased to 6.7% compared to 9.8% in 2014 cannabis.
- Cannabis use is higher for high schoolers (ages 16-18), with a third of young French people in this age bracket saying they’ve tried cannabis and 6.8% of them saying they use it regularly.
- Nearly nine out of ten 16-18-year-olds have tried alcohol and nearly half of them (49.5%) have been intoxicated, just 1% down compared to 2015 when 50.5% of young people in the same age range said they had been intoxicated.
- Regular alcohol use among 16-18-year-olds has risen to 16.7% (use alcohol at least ten times a month) compared to 14.8% in 2015.
The study shows that despite existing bans against selling alcohol and tobacco to minors, they are able to access the substances easily.
Alcohol harm for youth in France
As the WHO Europe country fact sheet reports, per capita alcohol consumption among French youth between 15 to 19 years is 10.3 litres for males and 3.4 litres for females. While the stats show a decreasing trend, it must be noted, the majority of these are minors, and France has a legal age of 18 years for alcohol use.
In youth between 15 to 19 years, over half of young boys (50.7%) and 15.5% of young girls engage in the harmful behavior of heavy episodic or binge alcohol use.
19% of deaths in 15 to 19 year old French youth can be attributable to alcohol.
Tackling alcohol harm in France
While France demonstrates efforts at reducing smoking, such as the ban on smoking in parks and beaches, the same could not be said for alcohol.
France has a strong wine norm. This norm has time and again been referred to and used by alcohol lobby groups to undermine policy measures that could save lives. For example, Minister of Health Agnès Buzyn came under heavy criticism earlier this year for stating the normal scientific fact that “scientifically, wine is like any other alcohol and alcohol is a public health hazard.”
Alcohol industry’s subtle tactic for positioning themselves as an actor for prevention has paid off in France as, the Elysée Palace and more recently the EESC, has invited big alcohol lobby groups in the development of the prevention policy on alcohol consumption.
France needs to take stronger and more evidence-based action if they hope to curb the alcohol harm on their people and specially the youth.