Britons have now overtaken Americans as the biggest cocaine users in the developed world, European drug analysts said today.
Nearly one in 20 took the drug last year as cocaine replaced cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamine as the most fashionable choice among the young.
The boom in cocaine brought a fierce warning from the analysts that the drug may now be starting to have "a major impact on public health".
The report by the Lisbon-based European drugs monitoring agency signals a new landmark in the rising level of abuse of cocaine.
For decades Americans have been the chief users of the drug, which has been cheaply and easily available in US cities. Until the last decade, cocaine was usually seen in Britain as the preserve of pop stars, City traders, and the wealthy.
Now low prices, increasing supply and the unpopularity of other drugs has meant that Britain - together with Spain - has the highest levels of consumption among the young.
Figures collected by the analysts show that 4.9 per cent of men and women aged between 15 and 34 used the drug in Britain last year - around 800,000 young people.
In America, the percentage of young people that used cocaine over the same period was 4.8 per cent.
British cocaine consumption among the young was at more than twice the European average of 2.4 per cent.
The most alarming figures on cocaine in Britain showed high levels of cocaine abuse among 15 and 16-year-olds: six per cent of teenagers at or below school-leaving age have tried the drug.
The report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said: "Cocaine is now, after cannabis, the second most commonly used illicit drug."
It added that "socially integrated" cocaine users - those who hold down jobs and live respectable lives as opposed to the criminals and prostitutes who often take the drug in the form of crack - are at high risk.
"The drug is usually snorted," the report said. "Many users are also using other substances including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and stimulants other than cocaine.
"This kind of polydrug consumption can lead to elevated health risks."
The report added that there was evidence that cocaine has "out-stripped ecstasy among club-goers as the most commonly used stimulant, with the drug gaining increased acceptability among some groups".
Evidence from surveys taken in dance clubs suggested "a replacement of other stimulants by cocaine could have taken place".
It said that cocaine use had appeared to be levelling off but "the general picture of a stabilising situation is called into question by new European data which point to an overall increase in use".
The report found that Denmark and Italy has shown the greatest increases in cocaine use over a year, but levels in the highest consumption countries, Spain and Britain, were still going up.
Prevalence of cocaine was similar in Britain and Spain, but Spain is the chief gateway country into Europe for cocaine imported from Latin America, the report said.
The findings come at a time when ministers have been congratulating themselves over a decline in levels of use of cannabis among young people in Britain, a fall that has come despite the confusion and controversy over Labour's decision to downgrade the criminal status of cannabis.
However the report said that cannabis - still smoked by 21.4 per cent of people under 24 in Britain last year - is increasingly intensively used by some. This, it added, is causing "health concerns".
Mary Brett of the campaign group Europe Against Drugs said: "Older teens are turning to cocaine instead of cannabis.
"Cocaine is cool, it's getting cheap, and cannabis is out of fashion. A lot of teenagers understand now that cannabis causes psychosis.
"It used to be people in their 20s that used cocaine, but now it is teenagers. Young people need proper drug education in schools that is about prevention, not about harm reduction for those that choose to use drugs. We need to tell them about the harm that drugs do."
Tories promised tougher punishments for drug offenders, new programmes to encourage drug users to stop, and a border police force to cut imports of drugs.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "Drugs destroy lives, wreck communities and fuel many other crimes. Labour has failed to get a grip on the drug culture in this country because their approach has been designed to ignore the issue if possible and do the very least if forced to.
"Pushers are 'punished' with warnings or fines and, instead of helping addicts beat addiction, they spend half a billion pounds pursuing a policy of managing addiction. It is a strategy of keeping people on drugs."
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker promised a new Government drugs strategy next year.
He said: "Drug use in the UK is stabilising. Drug related crime has fallen by a fifth since 2003, reducing harm to communities, while drug use is at its lowest level in 11 years.
"However, I have always recognised that tackling the harm caused by drugs is one of the most formidable challenges we face."source: The Daily Mail