Across Europe, smoking and drinking among 15- and 16-year-old school students are generally showing signs of decline – except in Austria where both remain comparatively high, according to the study published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (ESPAD).
Austria exceeds the ESPAD average by 20 percentage points on alcohol use in the last 30 days, and binge drinking is also more common.
The proportion of students reporting cigarette use in the last 30 days amounts to 28 percent in Austria, compared to 21 percent for all countries.
88 percent of Austrian 15 and 16 year olds admitted to having drunk alcohol at least once. 79 percent said that cigarettes were easily obtainable, despite strict laws on tobacco use.
“Heavy episodic drinking (binge drinking) remains a concern,” the study found, with the highest numbers of teen binge drinkers recorded in Austria, Cyprus and Denmark.
21 percent of Austrian students admitted to having experimented with illegal drugs – the most common drug used was cannabis. Across Europe the figure was lower, with 18 percent of students reporting having used an illicit drug at least once in their life. Illegal drug use among teens is highest in the Czech Republic.
Vienna's Drug Policy Coordinator Michael Dressel admitted that it is worrying that Austrian school children are able to get hold of cigarettes and alcohol so easily. “There is room for improvement. But Austria – like the Scandinavian countries – does not have a prohibition policy. The aim is to raise the health literacy of young people. This is sustainable. When young people grow up in countries with strict prohibitions on alcohol, they are more likely to drink themselves unconscious,” he said.
Austrian teenagers could blame their parents for setting a bad example. “Alcohol consumption is well integrated in Austria. There is no large group of abstainers,” addiction expert Alfred Uhl told the Kurier newspaper. However, he added that things have improved since the 1970s, with alcohol consumption falling by 20 percent and less alcohol-related road deaths and workplace accidents.
According to the World Health Organization, 46 percent of Austrian adults smoke and alcohol consumption is higher than in most EU countries.
OECD figures suggest Austrians drink 1.1 litres more alcohol than the EU average – equivalent to 12.2 litres of alcohol per person every year. They are also the second largest consumer per capita of alcohol in the entire OECD.