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Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England

This survey helps central and local government to better understand young people's behaviours and to develop policies, plan services and new initiatives and to monitor and evaluate their impact.

One of the ways the findings are used is to shape services and regulation that help to support and protect young people, including recent laws banning smoking in cars and plain packaging on cigarette boxes.

The SDD publication Series

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People publication series includes links to the latest report and all previous SDD reports published by NHS Digital.

Why we do this survey

Smoking, drinking and drug use amongst young people are key public health concerns. This survey provides vital information, which is used by central and local government to better understand these behaviours and to develop policies, plan services and new initiatives, and to monitor and evaluate their impact.

As well as being used across government departments (such as the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and Department for Education) and local authorities, the data is also used by a wide variety of other organisations, including Public Health England, NHS England, other NHS bodies, charities and voluntary organisations. Academic institutions also use the data for research purposes.

Managing the survey

The 2016, 2018 and 2021 surveys are being carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of NHS Digital. In 2020 the survey did not go ahead due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Fieldwork will be carried out in the 2021 autumn term, with reporting in summer 2022. Additional information is available on the Ipsos MORI SDD 2021 information page.  

Survey review

Before each survey, the methodology and information provided to participating schools and pupils is reviewed and approved by an ethics board at the National Children's Bureau (NCB).


Participants are aged between 11 and 15. For each survey, around 1 in 7 secondary schools in England is randomly chosen to take part. Nearly every type of school with pupils in years 7 to 11 is eligible for selection, and only very small schools and special schools are excluded.

What the survey involves

The survey fieldwork takes place during the autumn term and only requires a small time commitment from schools taking part. Pupils are given a self-completion questionnaire to complete in exam conditions, which takes about 40 minutes. Each stage of the short process - from agreeing to take part to the survey being completed - is organised and supported by experienced Ipsos MORI staff.

Data collected

The survey includes information on:

  • prevalence of smoking, drinking and drug taking among school children
  • use of e-cigarettes and emerging drugs
  • types of alcohol and drugs taken
  • how often pupils smoke, drink and take drugs
  • where pupils obtain cigarettes, alcoholic drinks and drugs
  • pupils' attitudes to these behaviours
  • predictors of the likelihood of smoking, drinking and drug use among school
  • from 2018, the survey also collects some information about well-being, and the relationship to risky behaviours

What we do with the answers

The survey is completely confidential and the information is anonymous. We don't ask pupils to put their names on the questionnaire and it is not possible to identify a pupil from the published results.

Findings from the main survey are published in a report and tables which are freely available on our website. An anonymised copy of the dataset is available on the UK Data Service (UKDS) for the purposes of not-for-profit research. Access is restricted to registered users of the UKDS within UK higher education or further education, central and local government, NHS, research companies and charities.

Other researchers outside of these categories can apply to NHS Digital for permission to use the dataset. However, the purpose must be for not for profit research that would benefit the UK health and social care system or patients.

Unfortunately, due to other priorities and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic the SDD 2018 dataset is not yet available. We hope to make this available to access via UKDS in summer 2021.

User consultation

We are running a user consultation to inform on the questionnaire content for the 2023 Survey. The 2023 Survey is moving to an online mode and we will need to reduce the current questionnaire length to make the survey viable for schools. We are consulting on which topics to prioritise, including adding, removing or changing questions.

The consultation closed on 16 July 2021. A report will be published shortly. 

The consultation will build on a previous one carried out by NHS Digital in 2015. The findings from 2015 were published in our survey consultation report.


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Last edited: 21 October 2021 7:47 am