Like with cigarettes and alcohol, no amount of awareness campaigns about health risks are needed. People know by now and some choose to do it anyway.

Among Swiss men, average age 20, 91 percent drink alcohol, almost half of whom drink six beverages or more in a row and would be categorized as at-risk drinkers. 44 percent smoke tobacco, and are categorized as at-risk smokers (because they smoke at least once a day) and 36 percent smoke cannabis, where over half are at-risk consumers, using the drug at least twice a week.

Investigators from the University of Zurich's Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine sought to determine whether young Swiss men read up on addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco, cannabis or other drugs and are aware and understand the risks of their consumption - so they conducted a survey of 12,000 men under a national cohort study as they were recruited for national service (C-SURF - conducted by the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine and Vaudois University Hospital).

Those who consume, even on at at risk basis, are already informed

They found that 16 percent of the young Swiss men surveyed had used electronic media in the last 12 months to actively find out more about addictive substances. 20 percent of at-risk consumers of alcohol or tobacco did so, along with 38 percent of at-risk consumers of cannabis. At-risk consumers of alcohol or tobacco seek information two and a half times more frequently than abstainers. Cannabis-consumers research addictive substances four times more frequently and the at-risk consumers among them even five times more frequently than those who don't smoke cannabis.

"The search for information greatly depends on the substance consumed. Generally, consumers of addictive substances are more likely to seek information on addictive substances compared to abstainers," explains Meichun Mohler-Kuo, a lecturer at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine.

Over 70 percent of the men surveyed who consume addictive substances and especially the at-risk consumers rate their knowledge of the health consequences of alcohol, tobacco or cannabis consumption as very good, thereby reporting their knowledge as better than abstainers in this respect. Men from the Suisse romande (French-speaking Switzerland) and high school graduates rate their knowledge of the health risks of excessive consumption as slightly better than German-speaking Swiss and men with a lower level of education.

Information as prevention doesn't help much

Prevention campaigns that are designed to open young people's eyes to the risks of addictive substances and deter them are normally based on providing information.

"Information alone, however, is insufficient as a preventive measure. It needs differentiated approaches for informed consumers," says Mohler-Kuo. Consequently, media campaigns for the prevention of substance abuse should be viewed with a critical eye. "It is important to examine and develop preventive measures that take the competence of well-informed young people and young adults into account."

Citation: Dermota P, Wang J, Dey M, Gmel G, Studer J, Mohler-Kuo M. Health literacy and substance use in young Swiss men. International Journal of Public Health. July 11, 2013. Doi 10.1007/s00038-013-0487-9