Islam is not behind more young people smoking and drinking less

Why are young people (aged 11-15) reducing their drug and alcohol intake?

On September 14, the Daily ran the headline, “Generation sensible: How today’s teenagers are less likely to drink, smoke or take drugs ‘because of rise in the number of young Muslims’

Unnamed government officials are behind the claim. Yet, it flies in the face of the available evidence. Islam is rising among young people and Britons from a Muslim background now represent 8 per cent of the under 16 population. But faith alone does not explain this shift.

A majority of the data cited comes from the report ‘Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England – 2013,’ published by The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) in July 2014.


16% of pupils reported having ever taken drugs, little more than half the proportion in 2003

Successive governments have emphasised education and support to inform and discourage illicit drug use in young people. Data from the survey found that students received the most helpful information about drugs from teachers, parents and television.

Schools also have a greater responsibility in terms of drug education and disciplinary powers to address drug-related problems. Most schools surveyed confirmed that pupils receive one lesson a year on each drug-related topic.


9% of pupils had drunk alcohol in the last week. This proportion has also declined since 2003, when it was 25%.”

Like other public health issues, government policies and education might explain a downward consumption in alcohol use. Fostering a ‘culture of responsible drinking’ includes the enforcement of the Challenge 25 initiative, marketing restrictions and effective pricing.

In 2009, guidance for young people and alcohol entered the public domain. It recommended that children under 15 remain alcohol free due to the potential health implications. Students who did drink were more likely to consume it only once a week and on weekends.

Yet, in spite of this downward trend, children in England are more likely to consume alcohol than many European neighbours.

Parents (and other family members) help form an initial understanding of alcohol in young people, but that can change with age, as peer groups extend influence.


In 2013, less than a quarter of pupils reported that they had tried smoking at least once. At 22%, this is the lowest level recorded since the survey began in 1982, and continues the decline since 2003, when 42% of pupils had tried smoking.”

The report focused on education and legislation to weaken the appeal of smoking. For example, making tobacco less affordable and helping users quit. In 2014, The Children and Families Act 2014 prohibits adults from purchasing tobacco products for young people. Nor can a person smoke in enclosed spaces. Supermarkets and large shops cannot openly display cigarette products.

Attitudes to smoking are changing among young people – 31 per cent of pupils thought it was acceptable to try smoking as a ‘one-off’ – just 12 per cent thought it was acceptable to smoke once a week.

Other factors include social media, which the Daily Mail did make efforts to explain by quoting Dr Richard de Visser, who pointed out that social interactions now happen at a distance.

Teen pregnancy/abortion rates

Unlike the above examples, the Mail article sourced this data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
The ONS data confirms that under 16 conception rates are at its lowest level since 1969. But there’s scant evidence to suggest Islam (or any other religion) is influencing this trend.

Rather, the ONS focused upon other factors to explain the decline:

  • the programs invested in by successive governments (for example sex and relationships education, improved access to contraceptives and contraceptive publicity)
  • a shift in aspirations of young women towards education (Broecke and Hamed, 2008)
  • the perception of stigma associated with being a teenage mother (McDermott et al, 2004)

Outside of a cheap headline, there is little evidence that confirms the assertion. Faith might hold some sway, but as the above evidence demonstrates, there are various factors at play. Complexities become simplified and sensationalised.

Focusing upon Muslim demographics potentially influences the conspiracy theorists that push the idea of Islamisation.